The Northwestern Wildcats suffered a disappointing 2013 season where a 4-0 start gave way to a seven-game losing streak and a 5-7 finish. Part of the problem was an uncharacteristically poor defense for head coach Pat Fitzgerald as the team ranked No. 96 in the country in points allowed. For the team to bounce back in 2014, they need a better showing from their defense. With linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo leading a veteran core, Northwestern looks like a good bet to get back on track this fall.
Ariguzo will be a three-year starter this fall and has developed his game considerably during his time at Northwestern. last season, he finished second on the team with 106 tackles and could end up leading the entire conference in tackles in 2014. He’s also got some pass-rushing skills, recording two sacks and three quarterback pressures last season, to go along with six tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and four interceptions. His ability to create havoc from sideline to sideline along with his experience make him the perfect choice to lead the Cats into this season.
But he will not be alone. Northwestern will be loaded with veteran defensive players that will help turn things around next season. Collin Ellis will slide into the middle linebacker position after finishing third on the team with 77 tackles last season as an outside linebacker where he may be an even better fit with his skillset. Ellis showed off some nice hands in 2013, picking off three passes and returning two of them for touchdowns along with another six pass breakups. Playing alongside Ariguzo, the Wildcats should have one of the best linebacker combinations in the Big Ten this season.
Northwestern will need a lot more from their defense in 2014 if they hope to return to their winnings ways this season. With a leader like Chi Chi Ariguzo taking point, however, there’s no reason to think that the Wildcats can’t get the job done.