If you look at quarterback Clayton Thorson‘s freshman season at Northwestern, there are many positives that lead you to believe the program is heading in the right direction. The Wildcats finished the regular season with a record of 10-2, which included two separate five-game winning streaks. But if you look a little closer, your optimism might become a more cautious.
The Wildcats ranked at the bottom of the Big Ten in both total and scoring offense and in 2015, and they’ll be losing three of their top six receivers, including do-it-all fullback Dan Vitale. They’ll be returning tailback Justin Jackson, who rushed for 1,418 yards last season, but there’s no question that he’ll begin to break down sooner or later if he continues to receive 30-plus carries every game. Thorson’s emergence could help lighten the load on their star back.
Thorson showed a lot of potential as a redshirt freshman both on the ground and through the air, but his statistics show he still has a long way to go. He completed just over 50 percent of his throws for 1,522 yards passing, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. By freshman standards, he played relatively well, but he’ll have to continue to improve in the offseason if the Wildcats hope to continue to contend in the Big Ten’s west division.
Northwestern’s defense, on the other hand, ranked fourth in the conference in both major statistical categories. Considering their astonishing record, nearly all of their success can be attributed to that unit. Anytime you hang around a game up until the last couple of minutes, you’ll always have a shot to win. Four of the Wildcats’ conference wins were by seven points or less. They’ll need a little more help from their offense in 2016 if they hope to compete for a Big Ten West title.