Believe it or not, the upcoming college football season is not too far off. Pretty soon, your Northwestern Wildcats will travel to Syracuse, New York, for a season-opening tussle with the upset-minded Orange. To get you ready, and to ensure we don’t get too bored in the meantime, we’re putting together a list of the Wildcats’ 10 most important players in 2012. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll reveal one player on our list per day, starting with No. 10, the least important on the group, and on down the line to No. 1, our MOP (most important player).
These rankings are arbitrarily constructed, and each pick may not have any quantifiable or logical justification for its placement in the list. In other words, these 10 players can be shuffled around in a number of ways, and it’s hard to find fault with any arrangement. There’s also a number of different players we could have included, and several others that could have been omitted. Our logic may not be intelligent, practical or defendable in your opinion, but that’s exactly the point of this completely just-for-fun exercise: it really doesn’t count for anything other than your amusement.
Remember: this list ranks the most important players on this year’s NU squad, not the best, or those most likely to put up the best stats.These players are the guys whose performances we feel will impact the Wildcats season in the most obvious and influential way. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but feel free to let us know how you feel about our selections.
Next we move on to No. 8: DE Tyler Scott
by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
Throughout spring practice, the theme was the same for Northwestern's entire defensive line: the Wildcats need more of a pass rush. NU had just 17 sacks last season, putting it in a tie for No. 95 in the country, and because the Cats were able to put very little pressure on the quarterback, opposing offense had more time to direct a weak NU secondary. Those weaknesses led to a weak defensive performance overall in 2011, when the Cats gave up 27.7 points per game — No. 66 in the country in that category.
The key to improving the pass rush falls on the ends, particularly starters Quentin Williams and Tyler Scott. Both are returning starters, as Scott broke out last year as a sophomore, starting in six games. He missed two games due to a shoulder injury, but had 31 tackles and three fumble recoveries. This year, his role is expected to increase.
Though last year's defensive line was a disappointment, prospects for this unit are looking up. It had an outstanding spring and dominated the offensive line throughout much of spring practice and the spring game — we'll see which of the two units that says more about when the season comes — without the help of Williams. Newcomer Deonte Gibson stole the show and will likely be a major contributor for NU this year, but Scott will be the starter and looked very good, as well. Now the key is replicating that April performance in September.
Scott is important, not so much depth-wise — Gibson is a perfectly capable backup — but in that the defensive line must be good to make up for the weak secondary. The Big Ten doesn't have great passers this year, so if Scott can get them into pressure and force them into mistakes, the entire defense will benefit. However, the conference is filled with good running quarterbacks, so it will also be Scott's job to not let them escape outside the tackle box. Scott certainly has the talent to have an All-Big Ten season, and if he helps NU improve its pass rush the entire defense will improve because of it.