Jul 24, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald speaks during the Big Ten media day at the Chicago Hilton. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Know Your Penn State Football Enemy-Northwestern Wildcats

No, Northwestern is not on the schedule this year, and yes, I realize I’m previewing them on the first game week Monday of the season.  But, in the interest of making the VBR readership the most educated group of readers on this here Internet, we’re going to do it anyway.

  • Head Coach – Pat Fitzgerald, 8th season (50-39)
  • 2012 Record – 10-3 (5-3)
  • Key Departures – WR Demetrius Fields, LT Patrick Ward, LG Brian Mulroe, DE Quentin Williams, DT Brian Arnfelt, S Jared Carpenter
  • Key Returnees – QB Kain Colter, QB Trevor Siemian, RB Venric Mark, WR Christian Jones, LB Damien Proby, DE Tyler Scott, S Ibraheim Campbell, CB Nick VanHoose

Jan 01, 2013; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Northwestern Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter (2) runs the ball during the second half of the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

OFFENSIVE PREVIEW

The biggest thing you need to know about the Wildcats going into the 2013 season is they return virtually all the key parts of a rushing attack that averaged over 225 yards per game, good enough for 10th in the country.  That all starts with the senior tailback Venric Mark, who racked up 1,366 yards a year ago and 12 scores.  Senior quarterback Kain Colter also found the end zone 12 times in 2012, while totaling 894 yards.  Keep an eye on Mark in the return game as well. Senior Mike Trumpy gives the Wildcats a more physical option out of the backfield as well.

With Colter’s struggles in the passing game, Northwestern turned to Trevor Siemian in situations where they needed a more reliable option through the air.  Siemian did not find much success either though, completing just 58% of his passes.  Between he and Colter, the Wildcats were just 110th nationally in the passing game. Northwestern’s offense is not built on big plays through the air, but if they want to equal last year’s 10 wins, they do need to find some consistency with either Colter or Siemian.

On the line, center Brandon Vitable will anchor a group that needs to replace last year’s staring left side.  Experienced quarterbacks and running backs should help them settle in before the Big 10 season.

Oct 8, 2011; Evanston, IL, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson (16) is tackled by Northwestern Wildcats defensive lineman Tyler Scott (97) in the first half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

DEFENSIVE PREVIEW

The Wildcat defense was the surprise of the 2012 season for Pat Fitzgerald, and many key parts return for 2013, and big things are expected from a group that was 29th in the nation last year in scoring defense. The star of the group is senior linebacker Damien Proby.  He had 112 tackles in 2012, and will be joined by Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis on either side.

The line will be looking for 1 new starter at both end and tackle.  The good news is Tyler Scott returns at one end after a breakout season a year ago with 9 sacks, and 12.5 TFLs.  Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson will look to take advantage of the extra attention Scott figures to get this year.  Sean McEvilly took over a starting spot at tackle early last season, and is back this year.  While not the biggest tackle you’ll find, especially in the Big 10, he is surprisingly quick and finds ways to make plays.

Senior safety Ibraheim Campbell and sophomore CB Nick VanHoose anchor what should be a very good secondary, despite losing 2 other starters from last year’s group.

2013 PREDICTION

It’s not hard to see why the Wildcats have been a popular darkhorse candidate to get out of the Legends Division and make their first ever trip to the Big 10 Championship game.  There is a lot of returning talent at the skill positions from a team that won 10 games a season ago, and quite honestly could have won more, if not for some late collapses.  Northwestern gets 3 of their toughest games at home (Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State), while a trip to Lincoln seems to be their toughest test away from Ryan Field.  If the Wildcats can manage expectations of a big year, 10 wins doesn’t seem out of the question at all.

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