Predicting Northwestern’s season

Daily Sports Staff

Football season is finally upon us. Check out our staff’s predictions for Northwestern in 2014.


NU will have a winning record and will make it to a bowl game this season, but don’t expect much more from this team. Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian will lead an offense that is good but not great, with the loss of electric playmaker Venric Mark rearing its ugly head just as it did last season. The defense will continue to be stout against the pass but struggle against the run, especially given the graduations of linebacker Damien Proby and defensive end Tyler Scott and suspect depth along the defensive line.

Look for the Wildcats to finish 7-5 and earn a berth in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, with losses against Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Notre Dame along the way.

Best case: Siemian channels his inner Dan Persa and passes for 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, and NU rides its new air-raid offensive identity and a strong defense to a 9-3 record. Worst case: Injuries pile up just like they did last year, Siemian can’t find his confidence and the team bottoms out at 6-6. But after historically bad luck in 2013, it’s hard not to imagine the Cats bouncing back.

Prediction: 7-5, 4-4 Big Ten, Pinstripe Bowl


NU endured a major blow to the offense with the departure of former starting running back Venric Mark. However, after an injured plagued 2013-2014 season, coach Pat Fitzgerald has prepared everyone on the roster to be ready in case their number is called upon. The loss of Mark will put pressure on senior quarterback Trevor Siemian and the rest of the Cats’ offense.

The season-ending injury to preseason favorite Ohio State starting QB Braxton Miller has left the Big Ten wide open. Many believe that has paved the way for Wisconsin and Michigan State to capture the Big Ten title. However, the West Division is a wide-open race with no clear-cut favorite. The Cats will play a huge part in deciding the West champion. NU could finish mid-pack at fourth in the West Division. The Cats will be in most games but will need the last two games of the season to become bowl eligible. The season will not be a disappointment, however. I am predicting marquee wins against Nebraska and Michigan as well as a bowl victory for NU.

Prediction: 7-5, 4-4 Big Ten, Music City Bowl


I’m of two minds about NU’s hopes this season. On one hand, everything that could have gone wrong for the Cats last year did. NU can’t possibly put together a string of heartbreaking losses like the ones to Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan in 2013. The Cats were hit hard by the injury bug. But for every answer NU has as the team looks to rebound in 2014, there are as many questions. Secondary and wide receiver will be real strengths. The Big Ten is wide open at the top, with Ohio State losing Heisman candidate Braxton Miller to a season-ending injury and Wisconsin and Michigan State replacing a number of key starters. The schedule is manageable, including a trip to suddenly-depleted Notre Dame that will be NU’s latest chance to steal some of the national spotlight.

But it is hard to ignore the warning signs. The Cats have already lost arguably their best running back, wide receiver and defensive tackle, and may lack the depth to withstand more injuries after years of mediocre recruiting. They are putting the offense in the hands of a quarterback who has never been the full-time starter. There is no obvious area where they will be significantly better this year than last. In 2012, nearly everything went right for the Cats and they went 9-3 in the regular season. Last year, nearly everything went wrong and they went 5-7. Let’s split the difference.

Prediction: 7-5, 4-4 Big Ten, Pinstripe Bowl.  


It easy to forget now, but the Cats entered last season with expectations of nine or 10 (or 11) wins. That they instead won only five games doesn’t mean they were inherently a five-win team. In fact, with fewer injuries and a couple luckier bounces, NU easily could have won seven or eight games. Thus, in analyzing the 2014 squad, we shouldn’t be using the 2013 record as a base. Instead, we should consider an average Big Ten team returning a large chunk of its starting line-up on both sides of the ball.

The losses of Mark and injured receiver Christian Jones hurts the offense, but there’s depth at both positions. Last year, running backs Treyvon Green and Stephen Buckley exceeded all expectations. This year sophomore back Warren Long and junior receiver Miles Shuler could be the surprise contributors. The offense will largely go as Siemian goes. The quarterback’s play at any given time has been difficult to predict the last two years, which means wide variance in how much the Cats might score week to week.

Meanwhile, defensive tackle Sean McEvilly’s season-ending injury damages what otherwise could be a very good defense. Sophomore defensive ends Dean Lowry and Ifaedi Odegnibo both have star potential, with Lowry further along in his development, and that duo — with help from senior Deonte Gibson — will make up for Tyler Scott’s graduation. With a solid linebacking corps and an impressive secondary, NU should be able to overcome its weakness at defensive tackle.

If everyone were healthy (or in Mark’s case, enrolled) I would be tempted to predict eight or nine wins, but as it is I’ll go with sev—wait, what’s that? Everyone else here already predicted seven wins and a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl. OK, how about…

Prediction: 8-4, 5-3 Big Ten, Music City Bowl

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