Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pre-Season Preview: Northwestern Wildcats

2009 Record: 8-5 (5-3 in Big Ten)
2009 Bowl: Outback Bowl (lost to Auburn 38 to 35)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (27-23)
Non-Conference Schedule: at Vanderbilt (9/4), Illinois State (9/11), at Rice (9/18), Central Michigan (9/25)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 25.9 points per game (7th in Big Ten)
Rushing Yards/Game: 117 (8th in Big Ten)
Passing Yards/Game: 286 (1st in Big Ten)
Total Yards/Game: 404 (4th in Big Ten) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 24.5 points per game (6th in Big Ten)
Rushing Yards/Game: 128 (6th in Big Ten)
Passing Yards/Game: 221 (8th in Big Ten)
Total Yards/Game: 350 (5th in Big Ten)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.23 per game (4th in Big Ten)
Penalties: 45 yards per game (6th in Big Ten)

Returning Starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 5
Kicker/Punter: 1 (Stefan Demos acted as punter and kicker last year)

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Dan Persa, Jr (20 of 34 for 224 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT)
Rushing: RB Arby Fields, Soph (82 carries for 299 yds, 5 TD, 6.3 ypc, 23 ypg)
Receiving: TE Drake Dunsmore, Jr (48 rec, 532 yds, 3 TD, 3.7 rec/game)
Receiving: WR Sidney Stewart, Sr (42 rec, 470 yds, 2 TD, 3.8 rec/game)
Tackles: LB Quentin Davie, Sr (90), LB Nate Williams, Sr (86)
Sacks: DE Vince Browne, Jr (5)
Interceptions: S Brian Peters, Jr (3)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Lindy's: Not Ranked
Mark Schlabach: Not Ranked
Rivals: Not Ranked
Scout: Not Ranked
Sports Illustrated: Not Ranked
Athlon Sports: #49

2010 Pre-Season Big Ten Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #7

Bowl Prediction:
Athlon Sports: Texas Bowl (vs Oklahoma State)

Northwestern is coming off back-to-back winning seasons in the Big Ten. They face the challenge of replacing a quarterback that led them to lead the Big 10 in passing yardage. They have a favorable out of conference schedule and for the second consecutive year they miss out on playing Ohio State. How much noise can they make in the Big Ten? We reached out to the Northwestern blog Lake The Posts to find out more about how Northwestern will fare in 2010.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

Strengths should be the O-line, WRs and LB units. NU is finally at a point where we reload talent in to the system as opposed to having a big drop-off in the spread at the skill positions. That is, of course with notable exception - RB - where we've been scuffling. The RB slot is a key part of the difference between having a great year and an average year. A lot of eyes are on the secondary which will be tested early and often as we lost a lot to graduation.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

Opening game - Vanderbilt. Why? Northwestern is synonymous with losing games it shouldn't in the non-conference (see Syracuse last year) and a road game in SEC territory, regardless of expectations of Vandy is still a true test. As Wildcat fans who support a team that tends to underachieve in non-conference and over-achieve in Big Ten play this is par for the course.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Considering there is no Ohio State on the schedule I'm happy to say "none". There are several "payback" games to keep an eye on - notably Iowa at home and Wisconsin on the road. Simply put, we've owned the Hawkeyes the past several years and the yellow-clad Iowa fans who are plentiful in Chicago are pissed. They've got the game on Nov. 13 circled especially considering we ruined their undefeated season last year. Wisconsin and NU always seems to be entertaining and last year's upset of the Badgers propelled NU to a New Year's Day bowl. You know the Badgers and specifically john Clay - who fumbled on the game's final drive - will be looking for retribution.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Probably Quentin Davie, LB.  He's got a pro body and is really coming in to his own. He seems to have that intangible of incredible nose-for-the-ball closing speed. Corey Wootton and Sherrick McManis (CB) got all of the attention last year from the media, but I expect big things from Davie this year.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

TBD.  NU is in the same exact scenario on offense we were a year ago. Last year at this time, fans were left to ponder life after multi-year starter CJ Bacher at QB and the loss of a trio of senior WRs in Ross Lane, Rasheed Ward and Eric Peterman.  A New Year's Bowl day appearance later and fans are lamenting how to replace QB Mike Kafka (Drafted by Philadelphia), and WRs Zeke Markshausen (went from 1 career reception to 90 in a season) and Andrew Brewer. Dan Persa has moxie at QB and like Kafka, is a huge threat with the run. There are high expectations of WR Jeremy Ebert who is finally healthy after a rough sophomore year. Sidney Stewart is a proven talent at WR as well.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

See above - likely Davie or DE Vince Browne. Browne had a great
freshman year in part due to the disruption caused by Corey Wootton. He slid back a tad last year and is a key for pressure this year. Keep an eye on CB Jordan Mabin.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

Obviously Dan Persa at QB whose major question (in addition to height) is his downfield arm to help stretch defenses (same EXACT question as last season). I'd also say Arby Fields at RB who is the incumbent at the 1-slot for RB right now. We simply have to get productivity out of the backfield which we did not last year.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year (freshman, redshirt freshman or JUCO)?

What's a "JUCO"? Kidding.  We simply don't get those at NU. As for RS freshman, Drew Moulton made some waves in the Spring Game and will be getting some serious time at WR.   I'd say there are three true freshmen to keep an eye on. One is WR Tony Jones who has the potential to make an instant impact at WR. Also, Venric Mark is a true speed threat who may get a chance to actually be a PR as a frosh which is an area we were once solid, but have failed to capitalize on in recent memory.  Since the RB slot is wide open, RB Adonis Smith shouldn't be dismissed as finding his way on to the field. Fitz is famous for redshirting nearly every player so these three would have to really make impressions this summer.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

I think RS FR DE Davon Custis could make some noise backing up Vince Browne. As for true freshman, DE Chance Carter has some high expectations from fans, but I suspect the Evanston native will get the RS tag. Carter chose NU over Notre Dame and Nebraska and has the "instant" impact traits.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

Gut record is 7-5. Successful is easy - we win a bowl game and get the monkey off the back. I'd say 8-4 is very successful and above that is dream scenario for this team. Fitz finally has the program at a point where anything less than 7-5 is a major disappointment and with bowl appearances in every other year on average (2000, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009) getting to a bowl doesn't cut it anymore. We've got to get the "win".

Next Up: Minnesota Golden Gophers

2010 Previews
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Michigan Wolverines, Purdue Boilermakers
Conference USA- Houston Cougars
MAC- Temple Owls


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