Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Wildcats finished the 2012 season ranked 17th in
the nation and, most importantly, won a bowl game for the first time in a 64-
year stretch dating back to the 1949 Rose Bowl.
Included among their 10 wins were two against SEC bowl teams (Vanderbilt,
Mississippi State). However, only a few key plays separated Northwestern from
an undefeated season. The three losses came on the road against Penn State,
Nebraska and Michigan, and the Wildcats held fourth-quarter leads in each of
Still, the team has plenty to build on entering a promising 2013 campaign.
After all, NU went bowling for the fifth straight season and finally snapped a
drought of nine straight postseason losses with a 34-20 triumph over
Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
"We're not satisfied with just going to Bowl games anymore," head coach Pat
Fitzgerald said at Big Ten Media Day. "That's not acceptable. That's the
expectation. And to be a consistent winner, to be a consistent postseason team
and playing in bowl games is the expectation. Now obviously we raised the bar
a year ago from winning a (bowl) game and getting that monkey off our back,
but at the end of the day the expectation is to win championships."
OFFENSE: The coaching staff split reps at quarterback between the athletic
Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, a more traditional pocket passer. Coach
Fitzgerald likes to deploy packages where both are on the field at the same
time, but Colter's numbers may warrant full-time duty under center.
In addition to running for 891 yards and 12 touchdowns, Colter also beat out
Siemian in completion percentage (67.8 to 58.7) and efficiency rating (129.3
Venric Mark converted from slot receiver to running back last season, and all
he did was go on to rush for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns, becoming the
school's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006.
Along with Mark, NU returns five of its top six receivers, and that doesn't
include former USC five-star recruit Kyle Prater. Sophomore H-back Dan Vitale
came on strong at the end of the year and figures to be more involved. While
virtually all of the skill players are back, the offensive line must replace
three starters, two of which were all-conference selections.
DEFENSE: The defense returns seven starters. Up front, defensive end Tyler
Scott returns for his senior season after racking up a team-best 12.5 tackles
for loss and 9.0 sacks.
NU is a bit thin in the middle, which is always a concern at the point of
attack. However, there are no such concerns at linebacker, where senior leader
Damien Proby is coming off a 112-tackle campaign. He is flanked by junior Chi
Chi Ariguzo, who emerged as a playmaker with 91 tackles (10.5 TFL), two
interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
In the secondary, junior strong safety Ibraheim Campbell followed up his
freshman All-America season by recording 89 tackles and a team-high 12 pass
breakups to go along with two picks. Cornerback Nick VanHoose notched seven
pass breakups in 10 starts last year as a freshman. While there is some talent
in the defensive backfield, the Wildcats had a few too many late breakdowns in
pass coverage in their losses. The coaching staff believes that with a year
under their belts, the defensive backs will be more consistent in 2013.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Jeff Budzien last year became the first NU kicker to be
named first-team All-Big Ten (coaches) since Brian Gowins in 1997. He
converted 19-of-20 field goals, with the lone miss coming from outside of 50
yards. Although he has razor-sharp accuracy, Budzien does not have the
strongest leg, as his longest field goal was 44 yards. Punter Brandon Williams
also returns after averaging 39.9 yards and landing 21 kicks inside the
OUTLOOK: By all indications, the Wildcats appear to be entering what could be
a very special period in its program history. Now, they just have to go out
and beat the top competition the Big Ten has to offer.
The schedule features Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks, and the
Wildcats also face Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State for three straight
games. In addition, Fitzgerald cited the first two games at Cal and home
against Syracuse as two more stiff challenges his team will face.
"We're very proud of the success we've had, five straight bowl seasons,"
Fitzgerald said. "But as I said as I put the Gator Bowl trophy up above my
head, we're just getting started at Northwestern. We have a lot of work. Talk
is talk, and now it's about time for action."
NU no doubt has the talent on offense, although the offensive line is a bit
unproven. If the secondary can step up and stop some of those big plays, the
Wildcats should be in position to challenge for the league crown.
The Sports Network