By
Apr 24, 2014

Jared Carpenter played safety at Northwestern from 2009-12. A starter in his final season, Carpenter recorded a career-high 10 tackles and was named Most Valuable Player in the Wildcats’ Gator Bowl win over Mississippi State. Carpenter is a registered investment advisor and general securities registrant with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. You can follow him on Twitter @CarpeD_em.

The Game

“…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” More insightful, courageous, and pertinent words have not been written in light of the imminent debacle of the NCAA. These words from July 4, 1776 combined with an inherent moral inclination to stand for what’s right are what have compelled me to share a more in-depth view of the issues underlying the recent controversy in college football.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Northwestern University’s football players qualify as employees of the university and therefore have the right to unionize. This decision immediately became a top story on every social media forum, on ESPN, and on many other news outlets. This issue has long been a popular topic of discussion and debate throughout the many sects of sports fans and society for years, and yet an issue brushed under the rug. Although whether or not college football players are explicitly employees has never been the verbatim dialogue of those colloquial conversations, it in fact is the fundamental underlying ideology that has driven those everyday discussions and ignited the disputes. The chicanery engineered by the NCAA is now being exposed, and despite the many efforts to preserve the facade and mitigate this attack on the systemic exploitation conducted by the NCAA, the record must be set straight. It is undeniable that college football players are employees by definition, but even further, major Division I college football players are financial assets that fuel the capitalistic system of collegiate athletics.

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Kevin Trahan
By (@k_trahan)
Apr 23, 2014

Returning starters: KR Matt Harris (So.), KR Venric Mark (Sr.), KR Stephen Buckley (So.), PR Tony Jones (Sr.)

Others returning: K/P Hunter Niswander (RS Fr.), P Chris Gradone (Jr.), P/PK Matt Micucci (So.), PK Jack Mitchell (So.), PK Arthur Omilian (Jr.)

Incoming Recruits: None

Projected Depth Chart:

Kicker: Hunter Niswander, Jack Mitchell

Punter: Chris Gradone

Punt Returner: Venric Mark, Miles Shuler

Kick Returner: Venric Mark OR Matthew Harris OR Miles Shuler

Explaining the Depth Chart:

There are going to be a lot of new faces on Northwestern’s special teams depth chart this year, especially in the kicking game. Hunter Niswander seems like the most likely choice to replace Jeff Budzien, while Chris Gradone is the obvious choice to step in for Brandon Williams, since Gradone replaced Williams in a couple games at the end of last year.

The return game should get a boost. It was pretty clear from last season that Tony Jones absolutely hates to return punts. Venric Mark is one of the nation’s best punt returners, and having him back will be a major upgrade. Everyone will be excited to have Mark back for kickoffs too, though Matthew Harris has actually been a marginally better kick returner. I know, Fitz fans, #StatsAreForLosers, but generally people with better statistics also perform better on the field, and I think there’s a decent chance the coaches will see that they can limit Mark’s injury risk and still have a solid returner by featuring Harris, or potentially Miles Shuler, on kickoffs instead.

Stock Up: The coverage units

Full disclosure: We don’t get to see the specialists practice, so it’s tough for us to be able to tell who is gaining and losing ground, aside from what the coaches tell us. One thing that should improve is kickoff coverage. Better recruiting typically leads to better athletes, which typically leads to better coverage units. Given how NU’s recruiting has taken off, the coverage units should continue to improve.

Stock Down: ???

Again, we can’t watch the specialists practice, so it’s not fair for us to make any judgements here.

Position Battle: Kicker

The only place there seems to be a major position battle is at kicker, between Hunter Niswander and Jack Mitchell. While Niswander is considered by most people to be the next man in, Mitchell could certainly make a run. We’ll get a better idea in fall camp.

Biggest Summer Question: What will get better and what will get worse?

Given who was lost and who is coming back, I expect Northwestern’s special teams to be all over the map in 2014. Sometimes it will be really good, and sometimes it will be really bad. That’s how it goes when you have so much inexperience. Let’s take a look at what should improve and what could decline:

Improve: It’s pretty clear that the punt return game will improve, while the kick return game should be just fine. With Mark returning, that’s expected.

Decline: It’s going to be tough for either Niswander or Mitchell to live up to Jeff Budzien’s legacy in year one. In fact, does anybody remember Budzien’s 2011 season? He went six-for-10.

Questions: Punter will be a major question mark, as the lack of punting efficiency really hurt NU’s chances to win in a couple games last year. For NU to be successful, Gradone has to be better than Williams was last year.

It’s hard to know what to make of this mix. Can the freshmen step up? Can Gradone improve NU’s standing in the field position battle? Those are the questions that need answering this summer.

Josh Rosenblat
By (@JMRosenblat)
Apr 23, 2014
Collin Ellis (left), Chi Chi Ariguzo (center) and Drew Smith (right) enter 2014 as the favorites to start at linebacker, a position of continuity and strength for Northwestern in recent seasons. Josh Rosenblat | INSIDE NORTHWESTERN

Collin Ellis, Chi Chi Ariguzo and Drew Smith enter 2014 as the favorites to start at linebacker, bringing both versatility and experience to the position. Josh Rosenblat | INSIDE NORTHWESTERN

Returning Starters: Chi Chi Ariguzo (Sr.), Collin Ellis (Sr.)

Others Returning: Jimmy Hall (Sr.), Eric Hauser (So.), Cole Johnson (Fr.), Joseph Jones (So.) Jaylen Prater (So.), Josh Roberts (Fr.), Drew Smith (Jr.), Anthony Walker (Fr.), Brett Walsh (Fr.)

Incoming Recruits: Cameron Queiro, Nathan Hall,  James Prather

Projected Depth Chart:

SAM (strong side): Drew Smith, Jimmy Hall

MIKE (middle): Collin Ellis, Jaylen Prater

WILL: (weak side): Chi Chi Ariguzo, Joseph Jones

Explaining the Depth Chart:

With the departure of Damien Proby, Collin Ellis, who started all 12 games at SAM last season, will move over to MIKE, opening the door for a new starter at SAM. During training camp last season, Ellis was locked in a position battle with Drew Smith for the starting spot on the strong side and Smith has gotten the opportunity to take over for Ellis this season. Jimmy Hall, a former defensive back, moved to linebacker this spring to compete with Smith. After starting as a sophomore at SAM, Chi Chi Ariguzo moved over to WILL last season and excelled.

Stock Up: Chi Chi Ariguzo

It’s been awhile since since Ariguzo’s stock wasn’t up. He has been one of Northwestern’s top defensive players for the last couple seasons playing alongside veteran players. If he’s able to stay healthy, Ariguzo will be one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten in 2014. Over the years, Ariguzo has developed from a run-stopper on the strong side to an athletic, versatile player in space on the weak side. Last season, Ariguzo’s first playing WILL, he showcased an innate ability to make plays from sideline to sideline.

Stock Down: Pass defense

Last season, Northwestern’s linebackers were forced into a tough situation. Because the defensive line was unable to plug running holes up front, the linebackers had to inch closer to the line of scrimmage to contain the running game. That allowed for teams, such as Ohio State, to burn the now-out-of-position-defenders on play action passes. With Ellis shifting over to the middle and Smith taking Ellis’ spot on the strong side, Northwestern may be in trouble defending against the pass yet again. Because Smith’s instinctual tendency is to be as aggressive as possible, he will have to learn be patient when looking into the opponent’s backfield and adjust his positioning accordingly.

Position Battle: Drew Smith vs. Jimmy Hall

After losing out at the starting job last offseason, Smith looked poised to take hold of the position this spring. But with Hall’s conversion from safety to linebacker, Smith has found himself in another position battle. Smith has always been one of the hardest hitting players on Northwestern’s roster but his instincts and footwork in coverage have come into question. On the other hand, Hall has the ability to cover player receivers and the quickness to make plays in open space, but his linebacker instincts are still developing. So far, Smith has at the upper hand due to his ability to stop the run, but both players could play situationally during the season with Hall spelling Smith on passing downs.

Biggest Summer Question: Can Collin Ellis replace Damien Proby?

During spring practice in 2013, Ellis filled in for an injured Proby at middle linebacker. The experience, he said, gave him “a holistic view of what the defense does from the linebacking core. You can understand where your help is coming from in different situations. You can be more aggressive and go out and make that play that you previously thought you couldn’t have made.” That experience could prove to be valuable as Ellis looks to take over at middle linebacker.

After taking over the middle linebacker spot midway through the 2011 season, Proby has been a mainstay on Northwestern’s defense. Besides his stellar play, Proby was also a leader for Northwestern as a 2013 co-captain. According to Pat Fitzgerald, though, Ellis has picked up where Proby left off and immediately became a leader on the defensive side of the ball when spring practice began.

On the field, though, Fitzgerald said Ellis’ eyes are just starting to adjust to where they should be. The vision lines are different for outside and inside linebackers, Fitzgerald said, and knowing where to focus his vision will be key for Ellis. But based on his performance last season, especially returning two interceptions for touchdowns against Cal, Ellis has the playmaking ability and versatility to have a major impact in the middle of Northwestern’s defense.

Kevin Trahan
By (@k_trahan)
Apr 22, 2014

After having four night games in 2013, Northwestern is stepping back to reality this season, playing just one game in primetime this season.

The Big Ten announced that the Wildcats’ home game against Nebraska — the Homecoming game — will be played at 6:30 p.m. CT on the Big Ten Network. NU will not play a primetime game on ESPN or ABC, though the Wildcats should have some ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC games during the day this year.

Playing a game at night against Nebraska could potentially look bad on TV, since the Huskers traveled en masse to Evanston last time, but the movement of the student section to the east stands should make the crowd look more purple on TV.

We also already know that NU will play at 2:30 on NBC against Notre Dame, and according to Teddy Greenstein, the Cal game will also kick off at 2:30:


The full schedule is as follows:

Aug. 30 — vs. Cal, 2:30
Sept. 6 — vs. Northern Illinois
Sept. 20 — vs. Western Illinois
Sept. 27 — at Penn State
Oct. 4 — vs. Wisconsin
Oct. 11 — at Minnesota
Oct. 18 — vs. Nebraska, 6:30, BTN
Nov. 1 — at Iowa
Nov. 8 — vs. Michigan
Nov. 15 — at Notre Dame, 2:30, NBC
Nov. 22 — at Purdue
Nov. 29 — vs. Illinois

By (@HenryBushnell)
Apr 22, 2014

Returning starters: DE Dean Lowry, DT Sean McEvilly, DT Chance Carter

Others returning: DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE Deonte Gibson, DT Greg Kuhar, DT C.J. Robbins, DE Jack Schwaba, DE/DT Max Chapman, DE Eric Joraskie, DT Tyler Lancaster, DT Connor Mahoney

Incoming recruits: DE/TE Garrett Dickerson, DT Fred Wyatt, DT Ben Oxley, DE Xavier Washington

Projected Depth Chart

1st String

DE: Dean Lowry
DT: Chance Carter
DT: Sean McEvilly
DE: Deonte Gibson/Ifeadi Odenigbo

2nd String

DE: Max Chapman
DT: Greg Kuhar
DT: C.J. Robbins
DE: Eric Joraskie/Jack Schwaba

Explaining the depth chart

There are two near certainties on the defensive line: Dean Lowry and Sean McEvilly will, barring something unforeseen, retain their starting spots at defensive end and tackle respectively.

After that, it seems like any of five players could realistically take the remaining two spots. Chance Carter is the other returning starter, but Carter was lining up with the 2nd team defensive line towards the end of the spring, even with McEvilly sidelined by injury.

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Chris Johnson
By (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
Apr 22, 2014

Earlier this month, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told a group of reporters at a spring practice that he believed it was in the players’ best interest to vote against forming a union. Fitzgerald said he doesn’t believe players need a third party to advance their agenda and that he would attempt to “educate” them about the regional director’s landmark ruling, the ramifications of unionization and the alternative mechanisms players can use to effect change.

As an employer, Fitzgerald is allowed to urge players to vote no, so long as he follows NLRB protocols that prohibit him from making threats and promises. Part of his and Northwestern’s effort to fight The College Athletes Players Association’s effort to form a union involved circulating a 21-page document answering questions posed by players, parents and staff.

The document was obtained by CBSSports.com and verified by a Northwestern spokesman and covers topics such as whether players would still be employees if the union is voted down and how they can help persuade voters to side against unionizing. If a requisite majority of 76 scholarship players vote yes in the secret ballot election scheduled for Friday, Fitzgerald said they would be “stuck” with a union.

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Chris Johnson
By (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
Apr 21, 2014

Returning starters: CB Nick VanHoose (Jr.), CB Dwight White (So.), CB Matthew Harris (So.), S Ibraheim Campbell (Sr.), S Traveon Henry (Jr.)

Others returning: CB Joe Cannon (Sr.), CB Daniel Jones (Sr.), CB Marcus McShepard (RS Fr.), CB Troy Sheppard (So.), CB Keith Watkins II (RS Fr.), CB Parrker Westphal (Fr.), CB Jarrell Williams (Jr.), S Terrance Brown (So.), S Godwin Igwebuike (RS Fr.), S Tommy Odell (RS Fr.), S Kyle Queiro (RS Fr.) 

Incoming recruits: CB Parrker Westphal

Depth chart projection 

CB – Nick VanHoose, Daniel Jones
S – Ibraheim Campbell, Godwin Igwebuike
S – Traveon Henry, Kyle Queiro
CB – Matthew Harris, Dwight White

Explaining the depth chart 

Northwestern’s defensive back depth chart hasn’t changed since the end of the 2013 season. The four players you see listed above on the first unit are the same four that started the Wildcats’ season finale against Illinois. Perhaps the most interesting secondary-related development of the spring was Jimmy Hall’s move to outside linebacker. His position switch will open up more playing time for Igwebuike and Queiro, Northwestern’s two backup safeties. Both saw plenty of action with the first team after Campbell went down with an injury in early March. Igwebuike, a former high 3-star recruit who garnered offers from Wisconsin and Nebraska, among others, was particularly impressive.

Jones sat out while rehabilitating the knee ligament tear he suffered in the Wildcats’ season opener against Cal. Harris and VanHoose are the frontrunners to earn the two starting corner spots, but Jones was one of Northwestern’s top defensive performers in preseason camp last summer. If he is healthy and back to being the player he was before the injury — which is no sure thing, mind you – Jones could at least push Harris and VanHoose for playing time. One player not listed on the two-deep who could get some action this season is Keith Watkins. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has said he is encouraged by the progress Watkins has made.

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