Over the next couple weeks, InsideNU will reveal its rankings of the most important players on Northwestern's football team. Past production, position and potential, among other criteria, were taken into account. We only ask one thing from you: If there's one player you believe is pegged too high or low, reserve your venom until after reading the explanation. Here's No. 6: senior linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo.
Even after losing senior captain Damien Proby in the offseason, linebacker remains one of Northwestern's strongest positions. Chi Chi Ariguzo returns for his senior season after finishing second on the team with 106 tackles last season.
Ariguzo and the Wildcat defense had their fair share of ups and downs. Melvin Gordon and James White teamed for 273 yards on the ground to help the Badgers crush NU 35-6 at Camp Randall, and Carlos Hyde ran for 168 yards and three scores in helping Ohio State edge the Wildcats in Evanston. Yet NU kept Michigan out of the end zone for sixty minutes (before losing in overtime), and Iowa's two-headed rushing monster of Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock barely broke the century mark in a seven-point win over the Wildcats.
If there's one thing the NU defense needs to do, it's be more consistent. The Wildcats allowed 27.1 points per game in 2013, good for 69th in the nation. Considering how banged up the defense often was, it performed pretty well, but there were some ugly outings. Open field tackling was absolutely atrocious at times. It will fall upon Ariguzo and fellow 'backer Colin Ellis to make big stops and spearhead communication.
While Ellis is moving over to middle linebacker, Ariguzo will stay at the WILL spot and patrol the weak side. Last season was Ariguzo's first at the WILL and he upped his tackles total by 16, making big plays dropping into the secondary and doing a good job clogging up running lanes. He also snagged four interceptions, proving his prowess as a pass defender.
In addition, Ariguzo forced and recovered a fumble. However, NU forced only six turnovers in its last six games. Coach Pat Fitzgerald knows NU needs to get back to winning the turnover margin to recapture the success it had in 2012. Ariguzo can help in this respect.
NU lost only a few of defensive starters this offseason -- Tyler Scott, Will Hampton and Damien Proby -- but they were vital to the defensive scheme. Ellis will help direct traffic, but Ariguzo's role will be more important, as he is expected to assume a leadership role and be one of the team's primary defensive playmakers.