The Northwestern Wildcats are looking to rebound from a severely disappointing 2013 season where they finished just 5-7, losing seven of their last eight games. One reason for optimism for 2014 was the return of explosive running back/return specialist Venric Mark, who was electric back in 2012 before being sidelined for all but three games in 2013 by injuries. With the new of a two-game suspension for Mark to open the season, however, Northwestern could be in store for a slow start this fall.
When Mark is healthy and in the lineup, he makes a major impact for the Northwestern offense. Back in 2012, the Wildcats averaged 4.93 yards per carry as Mark rushed for 1,366 yards on 226 attempts (averaging 6.04 yards per rush) with 15 total touchdowns, including two on punt returns. Without Mark in 2013, the team’s rushing average dipped to 4.08 yards per carry as Treyvon Green stepped into the featured back role, providing a steady presence with 736 yards and eight touchdowns.
While Pat Fitzgerald has raved about the depth of the running back position heading into 2014, thanks in part to having to deal with the absence of Mark in 2013, there’s no denying that the offense loses some explosiveness without Venric Mark in the lineup. That lack of firepower could hurt Northwestern as they start the year against the Cal Bears, who they beat in a shoot-out last season, and the Northern Illnois Huskies, who averaged nearly 40 points per game last season (though they’ll be without dual-threat QB Jordan Lynch).
The Wildcats were probably hoping to get through a winnable stretch of non-conference games smoothly to build momentum towards an improved run through the Big Ten this season. But without Venric Mark, Northwestern runs the risk of coming out flat on offense, which could spell disaster for that early-season momentum they were looking for and lead to another disappointing season for the Cats.