By Michael Briggs @MichaelSBriggs on June 1, 2014
While most of the intrigue about the Northwestern football team has centered around the players' vote on whether they will unionize, the Wildcats will be an equally-interesting team to watch this season for their on-field performance. After a surprisingly disappointing 2013, Northwestern could actually have a surprisingly good 2014 if the right pieces fall into place. Here are the Wildcats' five most intriguing players heading into the season.
A Texas native, Mark will get another crack at a fulfilling senior season after playing in just three games last year due to injury. The speedy back is fun to watch when he's on the field, posing as a serious threat in both the return game and coming out of the backfield. Northwestern has big expectations for the former 1,000-yard rusher, who will be relied on heavily to provide adequate offensive balance as the Cats look to pass more in 2014.
A highly-rated recruit and track star coming out of high school in New Jersey, Shuler will finally see the field this season after transferring from Rutgers. His playmaking ability was on display in spring practices and the 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior should be a good slot receiver for the Cats in NU's spread offense. Shuler was a dual-threat QB in high school, making him a deadly option with his legs and, occasionally, with his arm.
Another highly-touted receiver who transferred to NU, the ex-USC Trojan Prater gives the Wildcats yet another weapon in the pass game along with Shuler, Christian Jones and Tony Jones. Prater is finally injury-free heading into 2014 and though he has been disappointing so far, his senior season should offer ample opportunities to finish his career on a high note. The 6-foot-5 Illinois native figures to be a go-to guy in the red zone.
Ifeadi Odenigbo looks primed to breakout in 2014. The redshirt sophomore was the Midwest's top recruit coming out of high school and has lived up to the billing so far, with 6.5 of his nine tackles last season going for a loss (he also added 5.5 sacks). While NU looks really solid in the defensive backfield, the Ohio native Odenigbo could be a difference-maker in the Wildcats' season playing up front with a questionable line.
The play of Collin Ellis, who makes the switch from outside linebacker to middle linebacker for his senior season, will be an even more defining factor in NU's defensive success in 2014. Ellis is a little undersized for the middle, but his career success and intelligence are undeniable. All eyes will be on the Lott Trophy watch list selection, who will either thrive at the center of it all or serve as a glaring hole for exploitation.
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