Northwestern Poised To Make Noise In Big Ten

In 2011, the Northwestern Wildcats experienced yet another successful season as the program reached its fourth consecutive bowl game.

This season, however, the Wildcats will face a difficult challenge as they return only 14 starters after seeing the winningest class in program history leave in 2011. Northwestern also starts the season against opponents in three BCS conferences (Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College).

Northwestern will be led by quarterback Kain Colter on offense this season and will look to improve in certain areas in 2012. The Wildcats begin the season on the road on September 1 against Syracuse, but before they face the Orangemen, they will endure training camp over the next month in Evanston and Kenosha, Wisc.

“Offensively, we feel very confident, very strong about the weapons that we have across the board. In all phases skill-wise, we bring back some experience on the offensive line,” said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. “[Defensively] I thought we had a very competitive spring. We know we need to improve in areas in all three phases, but most importantly on defense we’ve got to affect the quarterback more.”

The Wildcats will begin training camp in Evanston next week on August 4 and 5 to prepare for what could be a rigorous season in the Big Ten. This team appears to be much younger than in the past and it will take a solid effort from Northwestern for them to sneak into the upper half of the conference standings.

Last season, the Wildcats endured another losing season in the conference as they finished with a 3-5 record in the Big Ten. Playing  better in the conference will undoubtedly help this program reach the conference championship game, something Fitzgerald claims has become a goal for Northwestern.

“I believe if we handle our business appropriately with obviously the challenges of the Big Ten, but also the schools that we have in our non-conference schedule, I believe that’s why so many recruits are really excited about our program,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to be poised and prepared to play for the Big Ten championship. And with our strength of schedule, new playoff format, with that being a component, from what I’ve seen, should help us tremendously.”

With the Wildcats returning just five starters on offense andsix on defense, this season’s success will hinge upon whether this team develops continuity during training camp. Northwestern can ill-afford to begin the season sluggish as they try to add new pieces on both sides of the ball.

Northwestern will be led by Colter on offense as this will be his first full season as a starter for the Wildcats. Last season, Colter led the team in rushing and had respectable numbers as a passer for Northwestern. The Wildcats will look to Colter to lead an offense that could be poised for a breakout season.

“I’m extremely confident in Kain as a quarterback,” Fitgerald said. “He has more experience going into his junior year than Mike Kafka and Danny Persa did when they were his age. So he’s got a lot of experience. We got an opportunity to see his skill set a year ago, especially when you looked at the Nebraska game. I think obviously he did some very special things in that game, but also in every game. He’s a very dynamic quarterback.”

As the Wildcats begin another season with Fitzgerald as head coach, Northwestern could have a great year if they focus on improving both their offense and defense. Fitzgerald understands that his team’s defense didn’t play to their full potential in 2011 and with defensive linemen Tyler Scott anchoring that side of the ball, the Wildcats could actually have better production than in season’s past.

“We gave up way too many explosion plays a year ago,” Fitzgerald said. “All the issues that we have, we always start first and foremost with ourselves as coaches. Was it a schematic issue? Was it a teaching issue? Was it a personnel issue? Fundamental, technique? What are the issues? And you’re always going to start in there. We looked at that. In the rearview mirror, we believe we’ve created solutions. And it’s always going to start and end up front.”