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Football Season Preview: Season predictions

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Northwestern warms up before its 2012 season. The Wildcats start this season with their eyes on a Big Ten title.

Northwestern warms up before its 2012 season. The Wildcats start this season with their eyes on a Big Ten title.

Daily file photo

Daily file photo

Northwestern warms up before its 2012 season. The Wildcats start this season with their eyes on a Big Ten title.

Rohan Nadkarni and John Paschall

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Season record

John Paschall: 11-1

I’m not just drinking the purple Kool-Aid — I’m chugging it. There are two teams in the Big Ten that could beat Northwestern: Ohio State and NU itself. Going to play at Wisconsin will be a tremendous challenge, but there’s just too much confidence in the Wildcats’ locker room for them to back down on a big stage. Michigan State seems all too similar to last year: strong defense but stagnant offense. Even if Michigan junior linebacker Jake Ryan does come back from a torn ACL for the NU vs. Michigan game, he will still most likely be in the early stages of testing his surgically repaired knee in game action. I’m also unmoved by the hype surrounding Michigan junior quarterback Devin Gardner. He will probably be good but not great. Nebraska will be a shootout on the road because the Cornhuskers’ defense is replacing a lot of starters. The Cats must keep their turnovers down in order to defeat tougher opponents, especially on the road.

Rohan Nadkarni: 9-3

Unlike my esteemed colleague, I’m not jumping on the NU bandwagon just yet. I don’t like the idea of going down the schedule and picking wins and losses because too much changes in football from week to week. So why 9-3? Looking at this season holistically, I think it’s important not to confuse excitement with reality. NU’s recent strides in recruiting don’t mean the Cats match up with traditional powerhouses in terms of talent. And as far as coaching in the Big Ten, Pat Fitzgerald is a hot commodity for his charisma and attitude, but I don’t know if he’s significantly better than anyone when it comes to X’s and O’s. The Ohio State game looms large, and for all the grief I’d certainly love to give Urban Meyer, I will never doubt him as a coach on game day. Hell, the guy got Aaron Hernandez and Tim Tebow to come together and rip apart defenses. Other tests include a sneaky Cal team with a new coach and offensive system, as well as tough road contests against Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Offensive MVP

Paschall: junior center Brandon Vitabile

While all eyes will be on explosive playmakers like senior quarterback Kain Colter and senior running back Venric Mark, the offensive success will rest on the shoulders of the guys in the trenches. Vitabile is the unquestioned leader of the group, and it’ll be up to him and offensive line coach Adam Cushing to help break in three new starters and have them ready by the season opener. If Mark and Colter are able to repeat last year’s success, it’ll be because of the offensive line.

Nadkarni: senior quarterback Kain Colter

I want to see Colter with the ball in his hands more often. It’s cute to pick an offensive lineman, but Colter is the engine that drives this team. His presence in the backfield makes the read option with Mark deadly. Kain’s ability to throw and run keeps defenses guessing. And the amount of game planning that Colter needs takes some pressure and attention off junior quarterback Trevor Siemian. In his last season, Colter can take a big step in his game by improving as a pure passer, and that makes him worthy of MVP.

Defensive MVP

Paschall: senior linebacker Damien Proby

Arguably the toughest guy on defense, Proby will most likely lead the team in tackles again. He will be a critical piece in defending against a dual-threat quarterback like Ohio State junior Braxton Miller. Proby must stay healthy for the defense’s continued success because the depth behind him, though promising, is untested.

Nadkarni: senior defensive end Tyler Scott

I think the pass rush is the key to NU’s defense this season. Even with junior safety Ibraheim Campbell and up-and-coming cornerbacks sophomore Nick VanHoose and junior Daniel Jones, I don’t have full faith in the NU secondary. Last season, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State all attacked NU through the air, at times with ease, to come back and win in the fourth quarter. Scott will be key for defensive success. Newcomers on the defensive line, specifically redshirt freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo, should take some pressure off Scott and allow him to play even better. Scott doesn’t even need to reach his nine sacks — his total from last season. As long as he consistently hurries the quarterback, the entire defense improves.

Biggest surprise

Paschall: sophomore defensive end Deonte Gibson

Opposing offenses will give a lot of attention to Scott, potentially even assigning double teams to him. Outside of Scott, Gibson has the most sacks of any returning defensive lineman. I like Gibson’s chances of beating his man one-on-one, so expect a breakout year from the sophomore.

Nadkarni: senior running back Venric Mark

I think Mark may be a surprise, but not in a great way. Before last season, Mark was never counted on for such a big role in the backfield. He won’t surprise any opponents this season. Also, Mark’s game is predicated on big runs, which may not carry over from season to season. I still expect him to have a decent year, but the hype, including talk of the Heisman, is over the top. (This is purely for motivational purposes. Venric, please read this, become angry and run over defenses again this season. It’s the most exciting part of NU football. I’m glad we had that Sociology class together.)

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About the Writers
Rohan Nadkarni, Gameday Editor
Rohan Nadkarni is the Gameday editor of The Daily and a Medill junior. His past positions include Sports editor, assistant Sports editor and football beat writer. He is from Mumbai, India, and has interned at The Miami Herald. He has also been a college sports blogger at The New York Times. Comments