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Northwestern Notebook 6/23

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

[Note: Obviously the biggest story in college football yesterday — and really the biggest story in America — was Jerry Sandusky's conviction. However, you can really go anywhere and read about that, so I won't have any links about it just because there is so much you can read and you probably know all the details already. However, if you're going to read one column on the subject, I'd urge you to read this one by Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg. It's an outstanding piece and puts everything into perspective.]

Kicker commits

Northwestern got its third commitment of the week on Friday with the commitment of Hunter Niswander, a kicker/punter from Peninsula, Ohio. At 6-5, 210 pounds, he'll certainly stand amount among his kicking peers, and he apparently stuck out at NU's camp on Friday, when he was offered a scholarship by the Wildcats' coaches.

Niswander brings versatility to the table and has the potential to kickoff, kick field goals and punt. That's what one of his kicking coaches was impressed with and told PurpleWildcats.com's Chris Emma:

"With a guy like Hunter, he can do all three really well," said kicking coach Jamie Kohl, who evaluated Niswander just last week. "I could see him contributing in all three assets."

Niswander is NU's ninth commitment for the class of 2013.

More Criticism for the Defense

The guys at the ESPN Big Ten Blog are doing a "home run summer" feature, in which they say who needs to step up on each team and have a big summer. For Northwestern, not surprisingly, it was the veterans on defense.

Adam Rittenberg singles out Tyler Scott, David Nwabuisi and Ibraheim Campbell in particular:

As more young players step into key roles at positions like cornerback, Northwestern has to make sure everyone is on the same page. The responsibility falls on players like senior linebacker David Nwabuisi, junior defensive end Tyler Scott and sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell.

The defensive line and linebacker corps should be fine next season, and couple actually be above average, but the secondary is where players need to step up. Obviously, calling a redshirt sophomore a veteran says something about the (lack of) experience for the rest of the group. Campbell needs to be more consistent and help NU overcome the inevitable freshman mistakes that will come.

The addition of Quinn Evans — a fifth year senior and graduate transfer from Stanford — should help a lot in bringing stability and another veteran to the secondary, but this is Campbell's unit right now and he must step up if the Cats want to leave last year's embarrassing numbers behind them.

Praise for McCall

In another nugget from the Big Ten Blog, Rittenberg has some kind words for offensive coordinator Mick McCall in response to a question in the blog's mailbag. The questioner said he though McCall was extremely underrated and Rittenberg responded with high praise (no, the Kevin in the question is not me):

Completely agree with your thoughts on Mick McCall, Kevin. He has been masterful in his development of quarterbacks at Northwestern, creating quite the pipeline in Evanston since arriving in 2008. If I were assembling my ideal Big Ten coaching staff, Mick would be my quarterbacks coach, hands down.

Clearly McCall doesn't get the credit he deserves and he is undoubtedly one of the best offensive coaches in the conference. He's been great at changing his scheme to get the most out of what his team — mainly his quarterback — has to offer. However, Rittenberg notes that it may be tough to keep such a good coach around in Evanston for the long term, as many successful NU offensive coordinators have left for better jobs.

Overrated or Underrated?

A friend passed along this cool article, which examines which teams have been the most overrated and underrated since 1989 according to the preseason and final polls. NU comes in at No. 31 on the list, finishing a total of 13 spots ahead of where it was projected. That's not a surprise, given how low expectations typically are. However, the Wildcats only have three years where they can actually count data, scoring an 18 in 1995, a 5 in 1996 and a -10 in 2001.

The most underrated team was Oregon, which has had a resurgence this decade and came in 77.5 spots ahead of where it was projected. In a bit of a surprise, Washington State comes in a No. 2, though it hasn't been relevant in years and hasn't had much data to count in the past decade.

The most overrated team — not surprisingly — is Notre Dame, which comes in 92.5 points below where it was projected after being perpetually overrated for the past 20 years. The other most overrated teams aren't too surprising either, as Oklahoma, Texas, Florida State and Nebraska — all of which are perpetually overrated in the preseason polls — round out the bottom five.

More Playoff Talk

Playoff talks took a huge step this week as the conference commissioners announced that they would recommend a plan to the Presidential Oversight Committee that included a four-team playoff with the four best teams, regardless of conference finish, and a selection committee. The plan calls for the semifinals to be hosted at bowl sites, not on campus.

The semifinal games will reportedly rotate among six bowl games for 12 years, and the Rose Bowl, Champions Bowl (the new SEC-Big 12 bowl game) and Orange Bowl are already in the rotation. The Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl are all likely to bid for the final three spots.