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.
We have reached the final two. By reading this post, surely you don’t need me to tell you who number one is, but in the interest of faux-suspension, I’ll refrain from blurting out the answer. Number two, Nick VanHoose, is nearly as important.
Like most of these selections, his inclusion doesn’t require a detailed explanation. Perhaps you’re more interested in learning why a cornerback could be ranked No. 2 on a list of a team’s most important players in the first place. It’s simple, really: for all of Northwestern’s improvements on defense last season, defending the pass remained a major liability. But for a few games against either limited or totally inept quarterbacks, Northwestern’s pass defense was not anything close to reliable, and its three blown second-half leads provide disconcerting evidence to back up that trend.
There were a couple of individual exceptions – guys who distinguished themselves in an otherwise below-average secondary. VanHoose was one of them, and as he looks to help lead an even younger and more inexperienced secondary this season, his performance is crucial to the Wildcats’ hopes of becoming more efficient in disrupting opponents through the air.
Matching up with an opponent’s best receiver is VanHoose’s basic responsibility. He’s also an improving run defender and an instinctual playmaker with a knack for finding the ball mid-flight. VanHoose has become one of the only stable entities in a defensive backfield lacking them. Alongside Ibraheim Campbell, VanHoose will be burdened with not only his own personal development, but those of the teammates surrounding him.
Some of the younger faces in Northwestern’s secondary – Dwight White, Traveon Henry, freshmen Kyle Queiro, Matt Harris, Marcus McShepard, Godwin Igwebuike and Keith Watkins – could contribute early on this season. The group is talented and athletic and deep, yet mostly untested in game situations -- a dynamic someone like VanHoose, an entrenched starter, can help overcome in the early stages by impressing the same tricks and gameday mindset he used early in his own career.
The secondary probably won’t go down as one of Northwestern’s biggest strengths this season. VanHoose, provided he stays healthy over the course of 12/13-games, can help prevent general regression while furthering his individual development as one of the Big Ten’s more respecter corners.
He is the strongest link in Northwestern’s weakest personnel field. His continual effectiveness in covering receivers and breaking up deep throws and making open field tackles is a crucial element of Northwestern’s prospective defensive success. The Wildcats almost need VanHoose to replicate last season’s efforts.
With anticipation for No. 1 all but destroyed, there won’t be much excitement when the final player is revealed tomorrow. But in case you’re still interested to find out who took home the top spot, check back for the final installment of Most Important Wildcat.