Breaking down any given team’s strengths and weaknesses doesn’t paint a complete picture. To truly gauge a team’s win-loss potential in the preseason, analyzing the schedule is arguably just as important. We will have detailed, timely, matchup-based write-ups on each opponent in the week leading up. In the interim, we present to you our Northwestern opponent summer look-ahead. It’s a little thing called “Know Your Opponent.” The title describes itself: take a peek at the schedule, read up and head into the fall having already completed part of your weekly opponent studying diet.
Returning starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 8
2012 Record: 5-6 (4-4, CAA)
Coach: Jack Cosgrove, 21st year
After starting the season facing three straight teams that have first-year head coaches, the Wildcats get Maine and 21st-year coach Jack Cosgrove to round out their non-conference season. Cosgrove has been fairly successful at Maine, but last year's season was a relative disappointment. The Black Bears finished seventh (out of 11) in the Colonial Athletic Association and the only teams they beat were the four teams that finished behind them in the conference. The season also included a 34-3 loss to Boston College, the only FBS team they played. However, that was a relatively young team, so Maine should be better in 2013.
Fun Fact: Both Northwestern and Maine have beaten Mississippi State. NU did in last year's Gator Bowl, while Mississippi State did, 9-7, in 2004.
The offense was Maine's biggest problem in 2012, as they were held to disappointing scoring totals against some of their better opponents. The rushing offense was fine, ranking fifth in the CAA, but the scoring offense struggled to an eighth place finish in the conference. Quarterback Marcus Wasilewski is now a senior, so he'll be responsible for making the passing game more of a threat. However, he can also make plays with his feet, rushing for 420 yards on 96 carries last year. Running back Rickey Stevens will also be a senior, and he'll be a leader on the offense again after last year's 819-yard season.
While Maine's offense may have been inconsistent last season, the defense ranked as the best in the league. The Black Bears gave up just 19.5 points per game last year — a CAA best — and this year's defense, and they also ranked at the top of the league in red zone defense. This year's team, which returns eight starters, should be even better. Maine returns star defensive lineman Michael Cole, who will pace the defense with his outstanding pass-rushing abilities (more on him below). If Maine struggles once again in 2012, it won't be because the defense didn't keep the opponents within striking distance.
Three players to know
Michael Cole, DE – Cole only played in five games last year, but he recorded a CAA-leading seven sacks. Yes — he led the league in sacks despite playing just five games. So expect a good senior year from Cole.
Marcus Wasilewski, QB – Wasilewski is a dual-threat quarterback who Maine lists as having a "breakout" season as a junior. He ranked fourth in the CAA in total offense, finishing second in passing efficiency while also showing off his running skills.
Justin Perillo, TE – Perillo made first team All-CAA last season, finishing with 30 receptions for 271 yards and 5 touchdowns. He's expected to be the top tight end in the league once again.
There's not all that much to say here. Maine seems to have a nice little team here, but Northwestern is a better FBS team than Maine is an FCS team, so the Wildcats shouldn't have too many problems here. The biggest challenge for NU will be to not overlook the Black Bears, with a huge matchup against Ohio State coming in the fifth game of the season. If the Wildcats lose to Maine, the Ohio State game will lose all its luster. Pat Fitzgerald is 1-1 against the CAA — a loss to New Hampshire in 2006 and a win against Towson in 2009 — but odds are that turns into a winning record this season.