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10 bold Northwestern football predictions: No. 7

The wait is nearly over. At long last, after eight trying months, the 2013 college football season is upon us. In just 10 days, Northwestern will meet Cal in its primetime season opener. This last week and change can be excruciatingly slow, so to ease your anxiety, we’re rolling out 10 bold predictions, one each day, to lead you into August 31. Some of these may sound crazy (some of them won’t), and we probably won’t be looking back four months from now celebrating our foresight, but preseason sports predictions aren’t meant to be perfect, anyway, and erring on the bold side is much more fun than playing it safe. With that said, let’s begin: the real stuff, the actual football, will be here in no time.

No. 7: Venric Mark will be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

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College football has developed to a point where in order for an individual player to be deemed as elite, that player must have, not just an impact on the game, but many impacts. When looking at recent Heisman Trophy winners and finalists, it is rare to find a strictly pocket passer or a defensive back that is only a lockdown pass defender near the top of the voting. For example, Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy recipient from Texas A&M, not only passed for over 3700 yards but ran for over 1400 yards and 21 touchdowns. The select few players invited to New York must be versatile as well as extremely proficient.

Over the past five seasons, running backs such as 2009 winner Mark Ingram of Alabama, Stanford’s Toby Gerhart, Alabama’s Trent Richardson and Montee Ball from Wisconsin have all been invited to New York. But the one tailback that compares most to Northwestern’s Venric Mark the former Oregon star LaMichael James.

Like Mark, James is a relatively small back who used his speed as his greatest weapon. But not even James can claim that he was as versatile a player as Mark.

Mark began the 2011 season as a wide receiver before making the switch to running back midway through. And in 2012, his first full season as a running back, Mark rushed for over 1300 yards and 12 touchdowns. The key, though, is Mark only touched the ball on offense 246 times last season. In James’ outstanding 2010 season at Oregon, he had the ball 311 times. In his second season as a full-time starter, Mark should see his touches rise into the 300s.

If Mark’s 2012 stats are extrapolated using his 6.0 yards per touch average, Mark could finish with 1800 yards from scrimmage if his touches increase by just over 4 per game.

Where Mark’s unique elusiveness shines most bright, though, is on special teams. After the 2012 season, the Football Writers Association of American named mark a first-team All-American punt returner. Mark also made the CBSSports.com and The Sporting News All-America teams in the same role. But Mark is still hungry, not letting the off-the-field accolades cloud his goals.

But the biggest factors in Mark’s Heisman campaign may be his exposure to the national media and the team’s overall success. If Mark can have a breakout game during the ‘Cats Oct. 5 meeting with Ohio State, he could be well on its way to New York. But if the offense struggles against Urban Meyer’s defense, Mark could be facing a tough, uphill climb.