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Football: Looking ahead to the 2015 season

Justin+Jackson+cuts+away+from+the+sideline+during+Northwestern%27s+loss+to+Illinois+last+Saturday.+After+a+stellar+freshman+season%2C+the+running+back+is+a+key+part+of+the+Wildcats%27+future+in+2015+and+beyond.
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Football: Looking ahead to the 2015 season

Justin Jackson cuts away from the sideline during Northwestern's loss to Illinois last Saturday. After a stellar freshman season, the running back is a key part of the Wildcats' future in 2015 and beyond.

Justin Jackson cuts away from the sideline during Northwestern's loss to Illinois last Saturday. After a stellar freshman season, the running back is a key part of the Wildcats' future in 2015 and beyond.

Luke Vogelzang/The Daily Northwestern

Justin Jackson cuts away from the sideline during Northwestern's loss to Illinois last Saturday. After a stellar freshman season, the running back is a key part of the Wildcats' future in 2015 and beyond.

Luke Vogelzang/The Daily Northwestern

Luke Vogelzang/The Daily Northwestern

Justin Jackson cuts away from the sideline during Northwestern's loss to Illinois last Saturday. After a stellar freshman season, the running back is a key part of the Wildcats' future in 2015 and beyond.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

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A second-straight season without a bowl game is disappointing, but despite having the same record, Northwestern’s 2014 campaign wasn’t as bad as 2013’s.
A talented defense kept the Wildcats competitive in most games, but gimpy senior quarterback Trevor Siemian usually wasn’t enough to put points on the board and propel NU to victory. Siemian’s regression aside, the performance of the team — which lost numerous key players to injuries — wasn’t too far from expectations.

There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful for 2015.

The quarterback won’t be Siemian. Early speculation points toward redshirt freshman-to-be Clayton Thorson, but whoever ends up under center will almost certainly be an improvement. Despite some late-season heroics, based on almost any statistical evaluation Siemian was one of the worst quarterbacks in the Big Ten in 2014.

True freshman running back Justin Jackson should continue his terrific play. A gifted runner who often made something out of nothing behind a suspect line will only see his playing time increase as he becomes more experienced as a pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield.

Redshirt freshmen linebacker Anthony Walker and safety Godwin Igwebuike look poised to lead the defense for the next three years behind a deep and experienced defensive line. Senior defensive tackle Sean McEvilly will return next year after missing all of 2014 with an injury. He’ll be joined by a pair of bookends in seniors-to-be Deonte Gibson and Dean Lowry.

Sophomore Matthew Harris and junior Nick VanHoose will be entering their third season starting together. Despite some questionable moments, each has definitely improved over the past two years and the duo will continue to backstop NU’s stingy pass defense (the Cats gave up just 6.5 yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks in 2014, 30th in the nation).

However, questions at wide receiver and along the offensive line need to be answered. Leading receiver Kyle Prater and starting blockers Brandon Vitabile, Paul Jorgensen and Jack Konopka are all graduating and have no clear replacements currently on the roster. That’s especially troubling for a line that underperformed this year and will have to develop stars for the future.

The bottom line is 5-7 seasons happen, sometimes two years in a row, but the standard of success hasn’t changed and the program isn’t bottoming out into yet another dark age. Sustained winning in college football is difficult, especially for a school like NU, but all the pieces are in place for the Cats to jump back into relevance in 2015.

Email: robertpillote2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @BobbyPillote

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