Best Northwestern Offensive Player
QB Clayton Thorson, Sr.
It was a horrible break. The 6-4, 225-pounder announced he was coming back for another year, and then became a cautionary tale why NFL-caliber football players need to get out as soon as possible, suffering a knee injury in the bowl win over Kentucky.
Expected to be back and ready to go by the start of the season, he’s got a live arm, the presence for an offense, and the ability to keep things moving, improving his accuracy over his first three seasons while throwing for 7,548 yards and 44 scores with 30 interceptions. And that’s the issue – he has to stop throwing so many picks.
A decent enough runner to be mobile, he has 18 rushing touchdowns, but with his knee still healing, the running part of his game might take a step back. As long as he’s close to healthy again as a passer, Northwestern has a shot at another great season.
2. OG Tommy Doles, Sr.
3. WR Bennett Skowronek, Jr.
4. RB Jeremy Larkin, Soph.
5. PK Charlie Kuhbander, Soph.
Best Northwestern Defensive Player
LB Paddy Fisher, Soph.
The 6-4, 245-pound Texas native looked a whole lot like his head coach in a terrific redshirt freshman season. A pure run-stopper in the middle of the D – it takes someone special to be Pat Fitzgerald’s main linebacker – Fisher led the team with 113 tackles with nine tackles for loss and an interception.
A machine at getting to the ball and coming up with the open field stop, he’s tough at the line, has range, and best of all, he’s just getting started. He came up with 19 tackles against Michigan State, 18 against Duke, and there’s a lot more coming in another sure-thing 100-stop season.
2. LB Nate Hall, Sr.
3. DE Joe Gaziano, Jr.
4. DE Samdup Miller, Soph.
5. CB Montre Hartage, Sr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
RB Jeremy Larkin, Soph.
Of course, Clayton Thorson is the key to the season with no ready-made backup option – Clemson’s Hunter Johnson has to sit a year – but no matter what, the Wildcats need help from the ground game, too.
Several options will be tried out and used in a rotation to find the right back, but no matter who’s carrying the ball, good luck replacing the ultra-dependable Justin Jackson, who finished up his great career with 5,440 yards and 41 touchdowns, and with 122 catches for 858 yards and a score.
The 5-10, 194-pound Larkin was a big-time recruit fro the program out of Ohio, and now it’s his turn after running for 503 yards and five scores with 11 catches.
Slippery-smooth, he made a name for himself in the bowl win over Kentucky, tearing off a big 64-yard run late to finish with a season-high 112 yards. Now, he has to prove he can be a workhorse like Jackson was.
Key Game To The Northwestern Season
at Purdue, Aug. 30
Northwestern was able to come off a rough start in each of the last two seasons and turn out fine, but this year, there’s a key Big Ten West game before September rolls around.
The Wildcats have beaten the Boilermakers four straight times and in six of the last seven outings going back to 2007, including last season’s 23-13 victory. This year, Purdue is rebuilding a bit, and there’s no time for any tune-up – Northwestern has to take advantage right away.
With Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Notre Dame still to play, lose in West Lafayette to kick things off, and it might take some scrambling just to get bowl eligible if there isn’t the same 2017 magic.
2017 Northwestern Fun Stats
– NU Scoring: 1st 40, 2nd 143, 3rd 47, 4th 114
– Rushing TDs: Northwestern 30 – Opponents 13
– Fumbles: Opponents 19 (lost 8) – Northwestern 8 (lost 6)