#39 Northwestern Football 2017 Preview


Northwestern Wildcats


Overall Rank: #39

#7 Big Ten

Northwestern overcame a very difficult start to the 2016 season when they lost their first two games of the season against Western Michigan and Illinois State. But patience was a virtue for Northwestern fans as the offense did start to get into more of a rhythm as the season rolled on. The highlight of the season was the Pinstripe Bowl where the Wildcats took on a very good Pittsburgh team and outlasted the Panthers 31-24 at Yankee Stadium.
2016 Record: 7-6, 5-4
2016 Bowl: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Pittsburgh, 31-24 W
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (77-61 at Northwestern, 77-61 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mick McCall
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Hankwitz
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Justin Jackson, RB, 1,524 yards
Passing: Clayton Thorson, QB, 3,182 yards
Receiving: Flynn Nagel, WR, 447 yards
Tackles: Godwin Igwebuike, S, 108
Sacks: Xavier Washington, DE, 4.5, Joe Gaziano, DL, 4.5
Interceptions: Monte Hartage, CB, 5
Other Key Returnees: Nate Hall, LB, John Moten IV, RB, Garrett Dickerson, SB, Solomon Vault, WR, LT Blake Hance, LG J.B. Butler, C Brad North, RG Tommy Doles, DT Tyler Lancaster, DT Jordan Thompson, S Kyle Quiero, P Hunter Niswander
Key Losses:  WR Austin Carr, LB, Anthony Walker Jr., LB Jordan Prater, WR Andrew Scanlan, DL C.J. Robbins, LB Joseph Jones
Clayton Thorson is back at quarterback and that’s a good thing for the Northwestern offense as they will have to be more dynamic in 2017 in order for them to win 9-10 games in 2017. Justin Jackson will lead the way at running back after rushing for over 1,500 yards last season. And if he stays healthy, Jackson should get around 300 carries on the season. The wide receiving corps has some work to do as Austin Carr’s production from last season will be missed. Flynn Nagel has the most experience at wide receiver and will be looking to increase his overall production from a year ago. Jalen Brown, an Oregon transfer, should be a starter as well at wide receiver and will look to make an immediate impact in 2017. Four starters are back along the offensive line led by Tommy Doles and it will be important for them to continue to be very productive in the running game right away and do a better job of protecting the quarterback.
Look for the Wildcats to continue to be a formidable unit on the defensive side of the ball. Godwin Igwebuike and Montre Hartage are two big time playmakers in the secondary. Keith Watkins II is back from injury and will be opposite of Hartage at cornerback and has the potential to be a big-time player as well if he is recovered from his injury situation. Xavier Washington and Joe Gaziano should be able to create plenty of pressure off of the edge at defensive end. Linebacker is a concern as there is not a ton of depth. Nate Hall is the only returning starter at linebacker and it will be interesting to see what Northwestern does schematically to compensate for the lack of linebacker talent. Hunter Niswander will return at punter and will need to find ways to tilt field position to force opposing offenses to have to go 70-80 yards on a regular basis to get the ball in the end zone.
The Bottom Line:
On paper, the Wildcats are better than their first three opponents Nevada, Duke, and Bowling Green. The two-game stretch starting on September 30th with a trip to Madison to take on Wisconsin will be huge. Penn State comes to Evanston on October 7th. If Northwestern can split those two games, they will be in position to contend in the Big Ten West all year long. Overall, there is enough returning experience on both sides of the ball that should ensure that the Wildcats will be a bowl eligible team well before the Illinois game, unlike last season. Now, it is up to the players for Northwestern to go out and produce with great consistency all season long.
Projected Bowl: TaxSlayer Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 153.2 (91st in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 245.1 (53, 4)
Total Offense: 398.2 (73, 5)
Scoring Offense: 26.0 (87, 7)
Rushing Defense: 139.2 (30, 5)
Pass Defense: 265.2 (109, 14)
Total Defense: 404.4 (60, 10)
Scoring Defense: 22.2 (24, 6)
Turnover Margin: 0.69 (14, 3)
Sacks: 2.08 (65, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 3.00 (49, 8)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#85 Godwin Igwebuike