We’re bringing back a little feature we started up last season, back before Northwestern was considered a real contender in the Legends Division and a consensus preseason top-25 team. Things were different one year ago, but we were still able, with a similar degree of predictive accuracy, to gauge Northwestern’s 10 most important players. Like last year, it’s important to remember the criteria for this ranking aren’t hard or concrete or anything resembling scientific. They are what we make of them, so make sure to read each explanation before disputing a particular choice. And with that, it’s time to kick off 2013’s preseason most important wildcat countdown.
Jack Konopka is an interesting case. He came in as an offensive lineman as a freshman, then switched to superback, then to guard, then to offensive tackle. That's a lot of switching for one player, and it's more what you would expect from a guy who has been in the program for three or four years but never caught on. But that's not Jack Konopka. Konopka surprised everyone to win the starting job at right tackle last year, and now he's at the money position on the left side.
Everyone knows the importance of the left tackle, so this is half self-explanatory. NU needs the person who protects the blind side of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian to be adequate, or else the season could take a dramatic turn for the worse. The left tackle will make most every "most important player" list, and it makes this one, too. However, NU especially needs some consistency from Konopka after the turnover from last year.
This could be NU's deepest and best offensive line of the Pat Fitzgerald era, but expect at least a few growing pains in the early going. The Wildcats are replacing starters at both guard spots and Konopka is shifting over to the left side to take over from Pat Ward. While things work themselves out on the inside, Konopka needs to do all he can to make sure left tackle isn't an issue. If he does, NU's offensive line will be just fine. If not, the NU offense could have problems.