The 2018 spring college football rankings, taking the first look at the Northwestern Wildcats.
No. 35: Northwestern Wildcats
Spring Practice Starts: February 27
Spring Game: April 14
Northwestern Wildcats Spring Status
Coming off a ten-win season and a second straight bowl-winning finish, the program is quietly producing on a consistent basis under Pat Fitzgerald.
Winning eight straight to close out the year and closing out Kentucky in a Music Bowl thriller was great, but star QB Clayton Thorson was lost to a knee injury, star RB Justin Jackson is done, and the secondary needs to all but start over.
However, four starters return on the offensive line, the defensive front seven looks strong, and there’s a lot to get exciting about – but only if the offensive backfield is in place early on.
Bowl games and bowl wins are the norm now. Even if the quarterback can’t go.
Northwestern Biggest Depth Chart Battle
Quarterback – for now. Thorson is the NFL -caliber starter if he’s healthy and right, but because the injury happened in the bowl, it’s going to take all offseason to get him close to being back. He could’ve turned pro early, and if he did, Northwestern would be in the same situation it is now.
Top backup Matt Alviti is gone, too, meaning T.J. Green is the only quarterback on the roster with a completed pass. But Aidan Smith and Andrew Marty – two untested underclassmen – will get every shot at taking over the rental gig. The starter has to be prepared to handle the offense for at least the first part of the season.
Northwestern Biggest Issue
The secondary has to be better. It’s not a plus to lose safeties Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro along with starting corner Marcus McShepard, but it’s not like they stopped anyone. The Cats were last in the Big Ten allowing 250 yards per game, and now they not only have to get better, they have to do it with a whole slew of new parts. The problems don’t make sense because …
Northwestern Biggest Positive
The pressure in the backfield will be there again. With leading tackle-for-loss guy Nate Hall coming back, and five of the top six players in tackles for loss returning, the Cats can get and will get behind the line. 28 of the 32 returning sack producers return.
Really, Why Are The Northwestern Wildcats Ranked Here?
Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. If the Wildcats had a healthy Thorson to start the season, this is probably a top 20 team. Until the quarterback situation is smoothed out and the O can prove it’ll be able to move the ball, it’s going to be a grind.
However, the defensive front seven and the offensive line are going to be good. The coaching and the system works, but as always for NU, there’s little margin for error.