The InsideNU spring guide is back as we get set for Northwestern's spring football practice. Practice starts February 26 and runs through the spring game on April 12, with a break for finals and the school's regularly scheduled spring break. We'll run through each position unit to let you know what to watch once practice begins, starting with the quarterbacks.
Returning starters: Trevor Siemian (Sr)
Others returning: Zack Oliver (Jr), P.J. Carollo (Jr), Christian Salem (So), Matt Alviti (RS Fr)
Incoming recruits: Clayton Thorson
Biggest spring question: Trevor Siemian, Matt Alviti or Both?
Position battles aren't decided in the spring. Remember that, everyone. However, it will be interesting to see how time is split during the spring, as that will give us a better idea of who has "the lead" heading into the fall.
Right now, the answer looks pretty obvious, though it won't please some Northwestern fans:
Fitz said Siemian is the starter if they play on Saturday.
— Inside Northwestern (@insidenu) February 5, 2014
I wrote about this at the end of the season, but Siemian is getting a pretty raw deal from a lot of NU fans. That's interesting, because before the season, some fans were begging for Siemian to be the lone starter. That was nonsense, because Kain Colter's rushing ability was a major boost for the NU offense — and he wasn't a bad passer, either — but Siemian has certainly proven that he is capable of being a solid Big Ten starting quarterback.
We found out at the end of last season that many of Siemian's struggles in 2013 could have been due to a heel injury that he sustained midway through the season. Pat Fitzgerald noted that "there's only so much you can do when you're playing on one leg" like Siemian was in his worst game — a loss to Minnesota — and the season finale against Illinois was the healthiest Siemian had been since the Wisconsin game early in the year. Siemian was 31-of-44 passing for 414 yards and 4 touchdown passes against an average Illinois pass defense. That's the 10th-best passing game in NU history, and everyone wants this guy gone? Really?
Fitzgerald has a seemingly excessive gripe with the Internet, and he insists on telling everyone that he doesn't listen to what's written on the web. However, this may a real example of an "Internet-created controversy," as Fitzgerald likes to put it.
The job is Siemian's to lose, and while it's not likely that he will lose it, Matt Alviti will be given a fair shake. The expectations on Alviti have been enormous ever since he committed to the Wildcats over Notre Dame, Nebraska and other bigger names. After a redshirt year, this is the first season that he'll be able to compete.
Nobody knows much about Alviti right now, and you can't take into account high school hype. From what I've seen, he has a great arm and likes to scramble before he throws, but take that with a grain of salt. We'll learn a little more this spring and a lot more in the fall. We just don't know enough right now to place Alviti on any sort of pedestal. Does he have talent? Yes. Could he start, or perhaps rotate with Siemian? Maybe, though he's not a "running quarterback" to contrast Siemian like Colter was, so a two-quarterback system seems less likely this year.
However, given the experience gap and what we know right now, Siemian looks like he'll have a pretty sizable advantage heading into the spring. We'll see if Alviti can close the gap at all before fall camp.
This is similar to the previous section, since the "quarterback controversy" is the biggest question. So to recap, it's Siemian vs. Alviti, but it doesn't look like a very close fight at the moment.
Our best guess at the depth chart
1 — Trevor Siemian
2 — Matt Alviti
3 — Zack Oliver