2018 Northwestern Wildcats College Football Preview
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald
2017 Record: 10-3; 7-2 Big Ten
2017 Bowl: Music City Bowl, 24-23 win over Kentucky
Odds to win Big 10: +6000
Odds to win Big 10 West: +1200
Odds to win National Title: +70000
Clayton Thorson’s fate hangs in the balance after he tore his ACL in Northwestern’s Bowl appearance last year. Should Thorson prove unable to go, the snaps will likely go to sophomore walk-on TJ Green, sophomore Aiden Smith, or even possibly redshirt freshman Andrew Marty. Obviously, Northwestern hopes for Thorson, since none of those three have any experience to speak of.
However, while Thorson’s health remains questionable, the backfield does not have many questions to be answered. Sophomore Jeremy Larkin rushed for 503 yards and five TDs last year serving as Justin Jackson (the beast)’s “understudy.” Jackson is the all-time leading rusher and leaves massive cleats to fill, but Larkin should be at least very good.
The OL returns four starters and only features one newcomer (center Jared Thomas). At WR, Cameron Green was sensational last season with 20 catches and two TDs as Northwestern’s super back. Solomon Vault also returns at WR with Flynn Nagel serving as the team’s best slot, as well. Bennet Skowronek is an interesting and tall receiver who should be able to climb the latter for some major catches.
Obviously, none of this will matter if Thorson is replaced by sheer mediocrity, so we can say Northwestern is a “wait and see” case, at best, with regards to its Big Ten contention possibilities.
Northwestern has a tough run defense once again, but it did lose some key starters from its defense. Senior DL Jordan Thompson is quick and powerful at tackle. Alex Miller will start next to him, most likely. DE is strong with Joe Gaziano who led the Big Ten with nine sacks last year. Samdup Miller, his younger sibling, was also outstanding last year as a true freshman.
The defense’s leader is MLB Paddy Fisher, who also led the team in tackles with 113 last year. He had two games with 18 or more tackles. The secondary will have Montre Hartage and Trae Williams for pass coverage, and safety is another strength with plenty of experience there. JR Pace also looked like a major playmaker in his freshman season. Northwestern held opponents to 20.1 points per game last year (No. 20) and its rush defense was a top-10 unit nationally, allowing just 107.7 yards per game.
Solomon Vault will be a big improvement for the returns. He has already set a school record with four TD returns. Charlie Kuhbander hit 13 of 16 field goals last year, but he lacks range (best was a 40-yarder).
Senior walk-on Daniel Kubiuk has just two punts in his career but he will be the full-time starter after Hunter Niswander graduated last year.
Northwestern has plenty of talent on both its offense and defense. Quarterback remains the issue, and that means Thorson has to be healthy—simply and plainly put. If he’s good to go, the team could match last year’s 10-wins. If he’s not, the season might be a sheer disaster. Fun, is it not?
Prediction: With Thorson- 10 wins; Without Thorson- 6 wins