Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (6th season)
Location: Evanston, IL
Stadium: Ryan Field (47,130)
2010 Record: 7-6 (3-5)
Northwestern football website
Last year Northwestern’s season virtually ended when Dan Persa suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the final minutes of a win against Iowa. Without Persa, Northwestern lost the three games of the year after starting the season 7-3. Persa looks to be healthy enough to start the season opener, but if he has any lingering issues with his health Northwestern could be in for a long season. Northwestern has gone to three straight bowl games for the first time ever, and a big part of this was because of this season’s senior class. Northwestern will be starting 16 seniors this year, if there is one thing this team won’t be lacking it is experience.
Along with Persa, Northwestern returns 16 starters on the offense and defense, which includes all four of Northwestern’s players that were named to the 2010 Big Ten First or Second Teams in 2010. Persa will have a couple of great options to work with in the passing game with seniors Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore. Last season those two combined for over 100 catches and 13 touchdowns. The offensive line returns four starters from last season in which Northwestern rushed for 22 touchdowns. In 2010 Northwestern was fourth in passing offense and sixth in rushing offense in the Big Ten. But they were only eighth in scoring offense in the conference, this season the Wildcats need to focus on getting the ball in the endzone and not just moving it between the 20’s.
While the offense had a lot of good games, last season was a struggle for the Wildcat defense as they gave up an average of 29 points per game, good for eighth in the league. Northwestern returns a good number of starters on defense but will need to replace one of their most productive players in linebacker Nate Williams. Vince Browne made a lot of plays in opponent’s backfield last season, recording over 40% of the team’s sacks. He will need help from others on the defensive line this season for Northwestern’s defense to improve from a year ago.
Top Three players
- Dan Persa
- Vince Browne
- Al Netter
Dan Persa is the most important player to his team as you will find in the Big Ten, maybe even all of college football. The senior was named to the Big Ten First Team last season by the coaches despite not playing in the final two games of the regular season. Persa accounted for 24 touchdowns and over 3000 yards of offense in 2010, and was second in the Big Ten in total offense per game with 310 yards per game. Persa was named one of the 12 players on the Big Ten Players to Watch list that was released this pre-season by the Big Ten.
Last season Vince Browne tied for second in the Big Ten with seven sacks and also recorded 15.5 tackles for loss, which was third in the conference. The media named Browne to the Big Ten Second Team for his performance. In his career, Browne has 16 sacks and 31 tackles for loss in addition to four forced fumbles. Browne is expected to be one of the top defensive ends in the Big Ten as he was named pre-season first team by several of the national pre-season publications.
Al Netter has started all 39 games in his career at Northwestern en route to becoming a two time captain for the Wildcats. Last season Netter was named to the Honorable Mention team by the media. Netter is the leader of Northwestern’s offensive line which rushed for 156 yards per game a year ago. Netter is also on the preseason Outland Trophy watch list for the 2011 season, which is awarded to the nation’s top lineman.
Nate Williams was the second leading tackler for Northwestern in 2010 when he collected 96 tackles, 9.5 of which were for a loss. He also recorded two sacks and a forced fumble. In his career Williams had 254 tackles and 20 tackles for loss. He started 31 games during his Northwestern career and was a solid performer in the middle of the Wildcat’s defense.
Quentin Davie was another linebacker that Northwestern loses from last season. Davie had 71 tackles, six of which were for a loss. He also recorded three interceptions and had a fumble recovery. Davie was a three year starter for the Wildcats and had a career total of 240 tackles and finished eighth on Northwestern’s career sack list with 10.
Corbin Bryant was named to the Big Ten Honorable Mention team a year ago while collecting 25 tackles, eight and a half of which were for a loss. He also had one interception to go along with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Bryant started 35 games for the Wildcats in which he finished with just under 20 tackles for loss.
9/3: @Boston College
9/10: Eastern Illinois
10/22: Penn State
11/25: Michigan State
Easiest Game: Eastern Illinois
Hardest Game: @Nebraska
Must win game: @Illinois
Northwestern’s schedule doesn’t have many easy games but it also doesn’t have many hard games either. The Wildcats will be tested almost every week but will not have many games they don’t have a decent chance to win. Northwestern avoids playing Wisconsin and Ohio State, but will have to travel to Nebraska and Iowa in intra-divisional play. The biggest game of the season will be when the Wildcats play in-state rival Illinois in the first game of Big Ten play. Getting off to a strong Big Ten start can build momentum for Northwestern as they have three or four winnable games to start conference play. It would not be surprising to see Northwestern start the season 6-2 or better. The last quarter of Northwestern’s schedule is very favorable as those three games are all at home, including two very winnable games in Rice and Minnesota.
Northwestern is going to be in a lot of close games this season and will need to win games in the final minutes, whether it is the offense or the defense making the big play. Having such a strong senior class will be a big benefit in the crunch time and should allow Northwestern to pull out a couple of games that a less experienced team would not be able to. The big issue for Northwestern is going to be the health of Persa. If Persa isn’t totally healthy by the first game, he probably won’t be at any point in the season. On the other side of the ball the defense will be improved over last year, but is still only a middle of the conference defense and will struggle against strong offenses like Michigan State.
Northwestern will go bowling for the fourth straight season; the question is how good will the bowl is. I have Northwesten winning eight games this season. They won’t be in contention for winning the Legends Division late in the season, as they will have three conference losses after the Nebraska game. Nonetheless it will still be a strong season for Northwestern as they extend their school record of consecutive bowl games to four.
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