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Bold Prediction: Stephen Buckley will finish as NU's leading rusher this season

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Stephen Buckley is primed to step up as Northwestern's breakout player in 2014.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Before the start of the 2013 season we looked into our (BCS) crystal (foot)ball and released 10 bold Northwestern football predictions. Needless to say they didn’t go all that well. We only got two correct: NU lost a game it was expected to win and the Cats cracked the top-5 in Big Ten pass offense. So naturally we are back at it this year. We aren’t putting a number on them this time around, but there will be more prophecies to come.

It's hard to find a lot of good things to say about Northwestern's 2013 football season. They didn't lose every Big Ten game?

Here was one bright spot: Stephen Buckley. Even that bright spot turned into a downer when the running back suffered a season-ending knee injury in week 10 against Nebraska. But prior to that, Buckley showed a lot of promise that I think will turn into a big year for the redshirt sophomore this season.

This biggest obstacle to Buckley's ascent will be the number of carries he gets. NU is loaded at the running back position, with Venric Mark poised to get the most carries for the foreseeable future, plus Treyvon Green and Warren Long vying for touches as well.

But here's what he's got going for him: Buckley is probably the fastest running back that the Wildcats have. He has the ability to get around corners and could be NU's go-to guy against teams like Wisconsin who are strong up the middle. But he's not just a speedster. The first touchdown of his career - a three-yard carry up the middle against Minnesota - proved that he's capable of running up the middle as well, despite his smaller frame (6'0", 180 pounds). He's a versatile player, which will come in handy with NU running a new offense this season.

Granted, there isn't a huge sample size to study when it comes to Buckley. But in the one game in which he got a starter-like number of carries - 17 touches against Iowa - he ran for 99 yards, for an average of 5.8 yards per carry.

The opening is there for Buckley to step up. Mark is suspended for the first two games of the season. He will undoubtedly get his starting job back when he returns, but it's not a promising start to what is supposed to be his season of redemption. This prediction isn't a knock on Mark's on-field abilities - he's already proven himself to be one of the top backs in the Big Ten - but whatever caused him to be suspended raises concerns about his leadership abilities. If Mark slips up again, or if the injury bug decides to infest NU for the second-year in a row, Buckley might be the back most capable of taking advantage of the opportunity.

A lot will have to fall into place for Buckley to actually get enough carries to surpass Mark as the leading rusher. But that's why it's called a bold prediction, right?