Northwestern struggled offensively in 2014, however, one player emerged as a potential star. Freshman running back Justin Jackson carried a Wildcat offense that featured one of the weakest passing attacks in the Big Ten.
In his first year on campus, Jackson rushed for 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns. The true freshman totaled more than twice as many yards on the ground than their leading receiver, Kyle Prater (535), registered through the air. Jackson averaged 4.8 yards per carry and rushed for 100 or more yards in six games last season. He’s just one of two backs returning to the Big Ten to rush for at least 1,000 yards in 2014.
Last year’s starting quarterback, Trevor Siemian, threw just seven touchdowns. Siemian is now a member of the Denver Broncos and the starter for the upcoming season is still to be determined. Three quarterbacks will likely be contending for the job — senior Zack Oliver, sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson. Any team breaking in a new quarterback — especially a team with such little production from the position a year ago — will need help in other ways. A solid running game always takes pressure off of the quarterback and it’s important that Jackson continues improving.
The Wildcats finished with a 5-7 overall record in 2014 and missed the postseason for the second-straight year. Jackson had a great campaign last year, but his success moving forward will be measured by the overall success of the offense. If the starting quarterback — whomever it may be — can have a breakout year and lead the Wildcats back to a bowl game, it probably means that Justin Jackson had another great year in Evanston.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten Football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.