By Zach Lutz | @zachlutz6
Entering Pat Fitzgerald’s 13th season at the helm, there is no question Northwestern football is synonymous with a higher standard and an established culture. Fitzgerald has guided his team to three 10-win seasons in the past six years. With this consistent success, the Wildcats will not sneak up on anyone in 2018.
So, how do the Wildcats build off the tremendous success of last year when they won their final 8 games following a 2-3 start?
The team’s biggest loss is four-time, 1000-yard rusher Justin Jackson. One answer to Jackson’s absence is the emerging sophomore back Jeremy Larkin. A big recruit out of the state of Ohio, Larkin was able to show off some slick skills and a lot of potential during his freshman campaign. Larkin and veteran backs Jesse Brown and John Moten should have plenty of room to run as the o-line was great in run protection last year and should be just as good this year.
The most important question surrounds the health of star QB Clayton Thorson after tearing his ACL in the Music City Bowl Game last year. With his talent, experience and leadership, a new running back, a lack of playmakers in the receiving core, and virtually nobody to back him up at QB, you could say Thorson is vital to the Wildcats success.
On the defensive side of the football, sophomore linebacker Paddy Fischer is the star in the middle and he will be assisted by senior outside linebacker Nate Hall who is just as good. The D-line returns four of five starters and should hold a strong reputation against the run. The question for the Northwestern defense pertains to their secondary as they lose some talented pieces to an area of their defense that struggled against the pass a season ago.
It is not ideal the Wildcats begin their season against a much-improved conference foe in Purdue on the road, but they will match up against many of their tough opponents such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Notre Dame at home. It will be interesting to see where Northwestern finishes this season. Reaching 10 wins this year would be an overachievement but is not out of the picture and 6 wins should be no problem, so expect to see these cats bowling again in some capacity come winter