CJ Bacher returns for his fifth year to lead the Wildcats offense. He is a returning starter who took nearly every meaningful snap last year. His backup will be redshirt junior Mike Kafka.
|Northwestern Quarterbacks Passing 2007|
|Northwestern Quarterbacks Rushing 2007|
Oddly, CJ Bacher is one of the most experienced and tenured quarterbacks in the conference. As a redshirt senior, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but maybe the fact that he also looks to be one of the best is surprising. If he can stop turning the ball over, he may contend for postseason all-conference lists.
Tyrell Sutton is a true senior and returning starter. However, he hasn’t managed to stay healthy during his time in Evanston. Backing him up wil be senior Omar Conteh, who performed admirably in relief duty last year, expecially against Michigan. Behind those two, there is little depth, so Northwestern may see Bacher handing it off to someone with virtually no experience if Sutton can’t shake the injury bug.
|Northwestern Running Backs Rushing 2007|
|Northwestern Running Backs Receiving 2007|
Sutton is good for the NU system, and Conteh was better than decent replacing him last year, but the lack of depth has to be scary. If Northwestern can get some garbage time carries for backups in games against Syracuse and Duke, fans can rest a little easier. However, Northwestern did manage to, you know, lose to Duke last year, so nothing is set in stone.
Eric Peterman was by far the go-to guy for Bacher last year, and Ross Lane and Rasheed Ward (#2 and tied for #3 in terms of receptions last year) both return as well. All are seniors, and the only major contributor the Wildcats lost last year was Kim Thompson. Michigan fans may remember Ward for the long run after catch he had last year… when everyone on the Wolverines though he was down. Jeff Yarbrough, also a senior, is the key backup. Andrew Brewer, who observant fans may remember as the former starting quarterback for Northwestern, is also at wideout.
|Northwestern Receivers 2007|
|Drake Dunsmore (TE)||11||141||0||12.82|
|Brendan Mitchell (TE)||2||28||0||14.00|
|Mark Woodsum (TE)||3||9||1||3.00|
|Josh Rooks (TE)||1||7||0||7.00|
|Northwestern Receivers Rushing 2007|
|Mark Woodsum (TE)||4||4||0||1.00|
The Wildcats start a very experienced group, with three seniors trotting out on most downs. Behind them is another senior in Yarbrough. Expect this group to avoid mistakes. Ward is the speedster of this group (though Michigan fans may contend that this status didn’t prevent him from getting run down from behind by Brandent Englemon, who is a solid player but far from a physical specimen. The group has pretty good size, and they give Bacher some good targets.
The line is a shaky area for the Wildcats. At left tackle, redshirt sophomore Al Netter is expected to start
. He was the second-stringer last year and found his way into 9 games. Left guard is expected to be manned by redshirt denior Keegan Kennedy who, to this point in his career, had always been a defensive lineman. Center finds the first returning starter, though redshirt senior Joel Belding has previously only found time at guard. Taking over for Belding at right guard will be redshirt sophomore Keegan Grant (completing the all-Keegan guard position), who found his way into 12 games last year. The right tackle will be redshirt junior Kurt Mattes, who started each game last year.
Position changes along the starting offensive line are troubling, especially when one of the players moving was an entrenched starter. However, the Wildcats have decent experience everywhere except right guard Keegan Grant. The line is rarely one of Northwestern’s strengths, yet they regularly manage to put together good offenses.
The Wildcats look poised to make a run this year, but there’s a good chance their offense will be really, really bad in 2009. They lose seniors at every offensive skill position and 2 offensive line slots. However, that means that these players are starting as seniors, and are likely to find success this year.
The top four tacklers from last year’s defensive line return as the starters this year. Seniors John Gill and Kevin Mims are at tackle and guard, respectively, while end Cory Wooton and tackle Adam Hahn are juniors. Wooton was very good as a freshman, but fell off fairly significantly last year. The backups are reatively unheralded or are changing positions from offense to defense.
|Northwestern Defensive Line 2007|
Gill was an honorable mention all-conference performer last year, and if Wootton can reprise his 2006 performance, the NU defensive line will actually be pretty strong. Hahn and Mims are less likely to make noise, but rather will make plays when needed and allow their more productive teammates to carry the load.
Senior Malcolm Arrington was a part-time starter at OLB last year, and he will move inside for a starting position this year. Senior Mike Dinard, who managed to get 6 starts at the position last year, will be one of the outside ‘backers. The other position will be manned by Prince Kwateng, who got 9 starts as on OLB in 2007. Backup Quentin Davie is a redshirt sophomore who managed to make a few waves last year, as is Nate Williams.
|Northwestern Linebackers 2007|
Adam Kadela was the best player on Northwestern’s defense last year, by a factor of about 1000. If the players stepping in can step up to fill in as well as they can (he got nearly 3 times as many tackles as the next leading linebacker), they should be able to rely on an improved and experienced defensive line to allow them to flow to the ball and make tackles.
The team’s second-leading tackler last year, Reggie McPherson, is gone. Replacing him at safety will be true junior Brendan Smith. The free safety will be Brad Phillips, who was a strong safety (and starter) for most of last year. The corner positions will be manned by junior Sherrick McManis, who started every game last year, and Justin Vaughn, a redshirt sophomore who made his way into 7 games last year.
|Northwestern Defensive Backs 2007|
Without McPherson and Battle, the northwestern secondary should struggle. Add that to the fact that they weren’t particularly good last year (98th in pass efficiency defense), and this should be the type of year where opponents are able to throw, throw, throw the ball. If the DL can’t get to the QB enough to keep pressure off the secondary, it could be another year of havi
ng the ball flung all over on them.
Unless the new defensive coordinator is a miracle worker (he’s not: he got fired from Wisconsin for not being up to defensive guru Bret Bielema’s standards), this could be a tough year for the Northwestern D. The D-line should be fairly strong, but the other two units are severely depleted. When taking into account that the Wildcats weren’t even good with the players they lost, it could spell big trouble.
Senior Amado Villareal is the returning starter at kicker, and redshirt sophomore Stefan Demos is the retuning punter.
|Northwestern Kicking 2007|
|Northwestern Punting 2007|
Neither Villareal nor Demos was inspiring last year, and Villareal was actually pretty crappy. Unless both improve in the offseason, special teams will not be a strength for Northwestern.
Northwestern has a senior-laden team, and they are counting on that experience to carry them through the year. If Bacher can stop turning the ball over, the offense should be able to move the ball. The defense is expected to improve under a new coordinator, but color me unimpressed. I think Northwestern will be a bit better than they were last year, but don’t expect to see dramatic improvement.
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