The case for
The Wildcats' plan of attack remains the same as it was in 2012, when they went 10--3: Pound teams with a multifaceted ground game and make big plays on special teams. Northwestern presents a true dual threat at quarterback. Senior run-pass athlete Kain Colter starts, but he'll share time with junior Trevor Siemian, who's more of a pure passer. The two QBs and the breakaway speed of senior running back Venric Mark will allow coordinator Mick McCall to switch tactics and surprise opposing defenses. In addition, last year's starting receivers (junior Christian Jones and senior Rashad Lawrence) return, along with one of the nation's best kickers in senior Jeff Budzien. Then there's Pat Fitzgerald, a player's coach who understands the challenge since he played in Evanston in the 1990s. The 'Cats trailed for a grand total of 4:45 last year. Expect them to hold lots of leads again.
The case against
The secondary didn't surrender too many big plays last season, but it gave up a costly one at Michigan: a 53-yard pass at the end of regulation that set up a 38--31 OT loss. Three of the four starters return, but if they have not improved it will lead to more late-game difficulties for Northwestern.
Has this program reached the point where fans can expect seven to 10 wins every year?
It better have, or I'm going to lose my job. And it better not be seven, or I'm not going to be in a very good humor.
What was the difference between winning 10 games as a player in 1995 and as a coach last year?
My body hurt a lot less this time around.
What do you expect from preseason All--Big Ten running back Venric Mark this season?
I think he's one of the more dynamic playmakers in all aspects of college football.
Do your players feel that they have a bull's-eye on their backs following a 10-win season?
I'm not as worried about that as much as I am about continuing to have the focus, the hunger and the hunter mentality that we've had.
What is the program's biggest strength?
Our biggest strength right now is confidence. I think we've got a belief system right now, that if we stick to who we are and what we do and continue to improve, that we can compete and beat anybody that we play.
Player to Watch
Ifeadi Odenigbowas set to be a regular in last year's D-line rotation as a freshman but appeared only once before suffering a season-ending left shoulder injury. The 6'3", 220-pound end should start and use his speed to rack up sacks.
EVAN HABEEB/US PRESSWIRE (MARK)
RANDY LITZINGER/ICON SMI (FITZGERALD)
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Kain Colter
Pass: 1,020 yards, 9 TDs
Run: 850 yards, 10 TDs
QB Trevor Siemian
Pass: 1,725 yards, 11 TDs
Run: 0 yards, 0 TDs
RB Venric Mark
Run: 1,120 yards, 12 TDs
Rec.: 180 yards, 2 TDs
The Wildcats may have to dig out of an early hole after their opener at Cal. Four weeks later they start Big Ten play, hosting Ohio State (against which they are 1--28 since 1972) then traveling to Wisconsin. Playing both Michigan (Nov. 16) and Michigan State (Nov. 23) in Evanston will help.
SI Power Ratings
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