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Venric Mark's Injury and the Northwestern Running Back Situation

On Monday, we officially learned what has seemed likely the past few weeks: Venric Mark will not play the rest of the season. Pat Fitzgerald announced that Mark fractured his ankle against Wisconsin in week six and won't be able to return — this after a hamstring injury sidelined him earlier in the year. It's a loss, no doubt, but with Northwestern sitting at 4-5, the page had already turned to next season. Now, it's time for Mark to look forward to 2014, as well, as NU applies for his medical hardship waiver.

Of course, Mark has to actually want a fifth year. That isn't a given, but of he does want one, he has a pretty good case, as we explained a couple weeks ago:

In order to be eligible for a medical redshirt, Mark has to have competed in fewer than 30 percent of NU’s games and he must be held out of those games for medical reasons, not just because NU wants to save him for next year. He also can’t participate in a game in the second half of the season. Technically, Mark meets all of those requirements so far. He’s participated in three games (25 percent) and barely played in two of them, so he would have a good case in that respect. Also, the last game he played in was the sixth game of the season against Wisconsin, and that falls in the first half of the season.

Update: Mark will seek a fifth year, per Fitzgerald:

His case is also strengthened by the fact that it was a new fracture in the Wisconsin game, not just a setback with the hamstring. Also, as commenter Jonathan Hodges points out, it certainly helps that Mark would be only applying for a fifth year, not a sixth year. It will likely come down to whether Mark wants to stay — he's the most important recruit in Fitzgerald's 2014 class (thanks, Marc Morehouse, for the analogy).

But Mark's injury wasn't the only one we learned more about on Monday. Stephen Buckley, who was injured badly against Nebraska, had knee surgery last Thursday and won't be back for nine months. Fitzgerald refused to elaborate, because... "you saw what I saw." That would be great if it were at all true, but an injury of this kind could be many things — a torn ACL, a torn MCL, a dislocated kneecap, a shattered kneecap and probably other things I'm forgetting. We won't speculate on what it could be, but Fitzgerald's (lack of) comment unnecessarily invites speculation. Fitzgerald also said, "I'm not going to answer specifics, guys, so." Coincidentally, we got specifics about the guy who is petitioning for a hardship waiver. But I digress...

Regardless, Buckley's injury is unfortunate for him and for NU. He was emerging as a consistent threat and now he won't be available for spring ball. However, as bleak as the running back situation has looked at times this season, it looks pretty stacked for the years to come, unless AIRBHG's cousin, ANRBHG, decides he/she/it likes hanging around Evanston. Let's take a look:

Assuming Mark comes back, he'd likely be the starter in 2014, but the Wildcats would have three backs with a lot of playing experience: Mark, Treyvon Green and Buckley. That, in itself, is quite the trio, but there's more. Warren Long, who burnt his redshirt this year, is back and could compete for time. Then there are the talented freshmen. NU's coaches want Auston Anderson to take on Mark's role, so he'd likely redshirt, but Justin Jackson might be in line for early playing time. He was pursued by a lot of the Big Ten and has absolutely torn up the Western Suburbs this season.

So while today brought bad news to NU's running backs, the future is looking bright. Venric Mark might not be back this season, but his chances to return next year are reasonable. At this point in an already lost season, that may actually be the best news the Wildcats have gotten in awhile.