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Northwestern Football's Venric Mark A Dark Horse Candidate To Win Maxwell Award





Each year, the Maxwell Award is awarded to the best player in college football. Won recently by players like A.J. McCarron of Alabama and Andrew Luck of Stanford, there is a high amount of prestige that goes along with being dubbed the best player in the country.

In a stretch from 1999 to 2002, three Big 10 players took home the award, but the conference has been in a drought ever since. The 2014 watch list consists of 10 players from the Big 10, including Northwestern Wildcats running back Venric Mark, who has an opportunity to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2013 season and make a run at the Maxwell Award.

Mark was part of Northwestern’s embarrassing 2013 season, but it wasn’t because of a lack of performance, as went the story for the rest of the team. Mark played through only three games last season with an ankle injury before hanging up the cleats for the final six games of the season.

But if you take a look back at his 2012 season, you can clearly see where the real potential lies. His 1,366 yards on 226 carries let the country know that Northwestern had a big-time playmaker in its backfield, and shame on anyone who may have forgotten since.

Mark is a dark horse candidate because he isn’t even the best running back in the Big 10 right now. That honor either belongs to Wisconsin‘s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska‘s Ameer Abdullah. However, Mark has the perfect opportunity in front of him to explode through this 2014 season with some mind-boggling numbers.

Northwestern will have one of the best run blocking units in the country with 99 combined career starts on the offensive line, including three seniors who proved in 2013 what they’re capable of doing in the run game. That is going to help Mark tremendously as he attempts to bounce back for a healthy 2014 campaign.

And while everyone wants to see quarterback Trevor Siemian make something of himself in the Northwestern offense, quarterback protection has been a big problem for the Wildcats in recent years. Mark will often be the best option for Northwestern.

Even at full health and full capacity, though, Mark will likely be limited to working on the ground. It would be nice to see him become more of a threat out of the backfield in the passing game, but that hasn’t really been the case during his time at Northwestern. It isn’t a make-or-break sort of deal, but it would potentially be able to set him apart from other top competitors if he reaches that status this season.

There are quite a few “ifs” right now concerning Mark and what he’ll look like this season, but if he is able to bounce back completely and build off a spectacular 2012 performance, this guy is going to be in the discussion for many awards come the end of the season, including the Maxwell Award.

Tyler Fenwick is a Big 10 writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

Related:

Top 10 Candidates to Win the 2014 Maxwell Award
Rant Sports College Football Rankings: No. 81 Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern Football’s 5 Most Intriguing Players Heading Into 2014

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Rant Sports College Football Rankings: No. 81 Northwestern Wildcats





After an extremely disappointing season in 2013 in which the Northwestern Wildcats were expected to seriously contend for a Big Ten title, Pat Fitzgerald‘s squad fell short.

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.

Offense

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.

Defense

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.

Schedule

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.

Toughest Games: Sept. 27 at Penn State, Oct. 4 vs. Wisconsin, Oct. 18 vs. Nebraska, Nov. 8 vs. Michigan and Nov. 15 at Notre Dame.

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 connor.muldowney@rantsports.com.

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Northwestern Football Players Lobbying for Union; Paying Athletes to Follow?





College athletics have gotten a bad rap lately. Okay, so maybe it’s not completely unjustified, but the NCAA has been criticized heavily for its utilization of athletes and not paying them any of the millions of dollars that they generate. The Northwestern Wildcats are trying to start a revolution in college football, today, with the players of the team lobbying for unionization.

What do I mean by this? Well, there is a union called the College Athletes Players Association — or CAPA — and that is the group that Northwestern players are looking to join. Northwestern QB Kain Colter is spearheading this movement by Wildcats players and it looks like it is close to happening.

The Northwestern players and CAPA will have to wait for the union to be recognized by the NCAA in order for it to represent the players — and at that point, all D1 men’s basketball and football in private schools will be eligible to join.

Although CAPA’s goal at the moment isn’t to obtain pay for players, it is trying to guarantee a better system to regulate safety in college football and it also protects scholarships of athletes who are injured and can no longer continue their playing careers.

So what does that mean for paying athletes? Well, this is just the first step into the world of paying college athletes. Once a union is established with athletes, that turns the athletes from “student-athlete” to “employee” and that’s just a common thing to offer to an employee — money.

Although I’m opposed to paying athletes, I do think the union is great for these players because it will ensure their safety and correct medical precautions.

The NCAA is expected to oppose such action by the Northwestern players, but it could be a step in the “pay to play” direction.

Connor Muldowney is a columnist 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 connor.muldowney@rantsports.com.

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