#26 Northwestern Football 2019 Preview

Northwestern Wildcats
Overall Rank: #26
#7 Big Ten
 Northwestern Logo
The Northwestern program has appeared to turn a corner. In the last two years the Wildcats have gone 15-3 in Big Ten play and won a couple bowl games. Last year they also claimed their first ever Division title, easily winning the West. However, the schedule is much more difficult in 2019 and Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team must come out of the gate playing good football or this group will quickly fade back into the middle of the Big Ten standings.
2018 Record: 9-5, 8-1
2018 Bowl: Holiday Bowl vs. Utah (W 31-20)
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (96-70 at Northwestern, 96-70 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mick McCall
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Hankwitz
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Isaiah Bowser, RB, 866 yards
Passing: T.J. Green, QB, 169 yards
Receiving: Bennett Skowronek, WR, 562 yards
Tackles: Blake Gallagher, LB, 127
Sacks: Joe Gaziano, DE, 7.5
Interceptions: JR Pace, S, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB John Moten, WR Kyric McGowan, OL Rashwan Slater, LB Paddy Fisher, S Travis Whillock, DE Samdup Miller
Key Losses: RB Jeremy Larkin, QB Clayton Thorson, WR Flynn Nagel, SB Cameron Green, LB Nate Hall, CB Montre Hartage, S Jared McGee
The big news in Evanston is the addition of Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson. The sophomore signal caller sat out last season and is now ready to make this his team. He is an accurate passer who can do just as much damage with his feet. With big targets like receivers Bennett Skowronek and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and speedsters like Kyric McGowan and Riley Lees back, the passing game might be even more effective than it was last season. The ground game may have found a star in Isaiah Bowser. He came on strong late in the season and ended up rushing for 866 yards and six scores. If he can pick up where he left off, Northwestern should be vastly improved on their Big Ten worst rushing offense. However, there are three new starters on the offensive line and that could hinder the entire offense.
The defense should have enough depth to make up for some significant losses. Northwestern ranked 11th in the sacks in the Big Ten last year, but Joe Gaziano tallied 7.5 sacks and there are plenty of pass rushing options at Coach Fitzgerald’s disposal. If Alex Miller can have a big senior season at defensive tackle, this will be a very good defense against the run. Of course linebackers like Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher will help in that department as well. Those two combined for an amazing 243 tackles last season. The secondary has struggled at times, but on paper this is a good group. Trae Williams is a staple at cornerback and Greg Newsome heads into his sophomore season with very high expectations. Safeties JR Pace and Travis Whillock were third and fourth on the team in tackles and now are very experienced upperclassmen.
The Bottom Line:
The Wildcats defense should be able to keep them in most games, but it remains to be seen if this offensive group can do enough to beat the best the Big Ten has to offer. And we will not have to wait long to see what they can do. The Wildcats open the season at Stanford. Their third game of the season is against Michigan State, followed by road trips to fellow west rivals Wisconsin and Nebraska. After that they host Ohio State and Iowa. It is possible that Northwestern starts the season 1-6 and nobody would be all that shocked. But if this team can make it through the end of October with only a couple losses, they will win the West and get a shot at a Big Ten championship.
Projected Bowl: RedBox Bowl
2018 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 114.9 (119th in nation, 14th in conference)
Passing Offense: 239.4 (58, 5)
Total Offense: 354.4 (107, 12)
Scoring Offense: 24.2 (99, 12)
Rushing Defense: 129.6 (26, 4)
Pass Defense: 261.2 (109, 12)
Total Defense: 390.9 (64, 8)
Scoring Defense: 23.2 (41, 6)
Turnover Margin: 0.50 (27, 3)
Sacks: 1.71 (100, 11)
Sacks Allowed: 2.57 (91, 14)
Madness 2020 NFL Draft Rankings:
#37 Paddy Fisher