Starting the season 4-0 with a chance to make it 5-0 against the No. 4 team in the country, Ohio State, Northwestern began to slip. Following the 4-0 start to the season, the Wildcats went on to lose seven straight games and finish the season a mediocre 5-7.
Since Fitzgerald took over in 2006, the Wildcats had only won less than six games one time and it was his first season on campus. In that time frame, he has won more than eight games three times and also has one 10-win season — the season prior to Northwestern’s mediocre 5-7 finish in 2013.
Let’s take a look at how the Wildcats stack up in 2014.
Losing Kain Colter might hurt the offensive scheme a bit, but drifting more toward a pass-heavy offense will help Trevor Siemian‘s game as he will now be the full-time QB. The senior quarterback passed for 2,149 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013 and he will look to improve on that in 2014 now that he doesn’t have to split time with Colter.
Tony Jones and Christian Jones are the lead returning receivers and the two seniors will look to capitalize on the improved passing game. The two combined for 109 catches for 1,298 yards and eight scores in 2013.
Don’t sleep on transfer wide outs Kyle Prater, a former five-star prospect, and Miles Shuler, a former four-star recruit, who will both be poised to live up to the hype.
The run game won’t exactly be a snooze fest, either, as Venric Mark and Treyvon Green will both be seniors. If Mark is healthy, he could be the best RB in the conference, recording 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. Green filled in for the injured Mark in 2013, racking up 736 yards and eight scores on 5.4 yards per carry.
Northwestern’s defensive unit wasn’t exactly the most impressive in 2013 — which is surprising seeing as Fitzgerald is a defensive-minded coach.
The Wildcats ranked 69th in the nation in points allowed per game as well as allowing an elevated 423.5 yards per contest. However, they are returning all four starters to the secondary, including safety Ibraheim Campbell who was second in the unit in tackles with 73 and first in interceptions with four.
Although Northwestern is losing top inside linebacker and team-leading tackler Damien Proby to graduation, the Wildcats are returning the next two leading tacklers in Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis who had 106 tackles and 78 tackles, respectively.
This should be a much-improved, and veteran, unit from 2013.
Although the schedule doesn’t look especially difficult on paper, the Wildcats will have a lot to prove in their road to a bowl game — assuming they do get to one.
Not having won a Big Ten title since 2000 has to be eating away at the Wildcats and they might feel like they are long overdue for one. Also, Pat Fitzgerald would like to improve on his 1-4 record in bowl games and make some noise in the Big Ten — when no one is giving him any hope.
The Wildcats don’t have the easiest schedule, but I do see them winning seven games and heading back to a bowl game in 2014.
Connor Muldowney is the Content Associate for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.