Yesterday, we peered into the future to project how Northwestern's offense might look in 2015, and the findings don't exactly induce optimism. But now it's time for the defense, where the outlook shouldn't be as bleak:
Key loss: Chance Carter
Key returners: Dean Lowry, Sean McEvilly
Projected starters: This is the toughest position group of all to project because Mike Hankwitz and Pat Fitzgerald love to cycle players in and out. The only true every-down player is probably Lowry, who can lineup inside our outside, but on standard downs will be at end. At tackle, McEvilly is the wild card. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility after a foot injury ended his 2014 campaign before it even started. If healthy though, we'll peg him as the starter alongside C.J. Robbins. Greg Kuhar had a nice season but suffered a serious lower body injury against Notre Dame, which could hinder his run at a starting sport. On the edge opposite Lowry, we keep waiting for Ifeadi Odenigbo to fullfill his potential, but the coaching staff still doesn't feel comfortable with him on running downs. Deonte Gibson therefore should get the nod. Xavier Washington, Connor Mahoney and Max Chapman should be in the mix too. Also, watch out for true freshman Jordan Thompson, arguably the best player in the class, if the interior lineman are less than stellar in camp. Two more sleepers are Eric Joraskie and Tyler Lancaster.
Key losses: Chi Chi Ariguzo, Collin Ellis (retired midseason), Jimmy Hall
Key returners: Anthony Walker, Drew Smith
Projected starters: Jimmy Hall and Drew Smith split time last season, but essentially, Northwestern must move on from all three of its starting linebackers at the onset of 2014. That transition will be a tad smoother because Anthony Walker saw plenty of the field this season when Collins Ellis was forced to the sidelines by injuries. Expect Walker to start at middle linebacker, while Smith mans the strong side, as he did intermittently last season. On the weak side, the leader at the moment would appear to be Joseph Jones, though there's the outside possibility that Traveon Henry could move to linebacker if Fitzgerald feels that's where his biggest need is.
Key losses: None
Key returners: Matt Harris, Nick VanHoose
Projected starters: This one is pretty straightforward. Harris and VanHoose are the guys, with Marcus McShephard and Keith Watkins competing for the nickel role. Watkins is more suited to play inside though, so assuming he can stay healthy, he could see plenty of the field. McShephard would be the guy to step in if Harris or VanHoose were to go down. Parkker Westphal will also be in the mix. A highly-touted recruit, he missed last season with an injury, but might have redshirted anyway. Don't be surprised if we hear a lot from him in the spring and throughout summer camp.
Key loss: Ibraheim Campbell
Key returners: Godwin Igwebuike, Traveon Henry
Projected starters: Igwebuike will almost certainly step into Campbell's role, as he did in 2014 when the senior was out injured. The question mark is alongside him. Henry is the incumbent, but he struggled in his junior season, so could Kyle Queiro supplant him? Maybe. We'll list Henry as the projected starter for now, but as stated above, don't rule out the possibility of a move to linebacker for the two-year starter. The one problem with that though is that would leave the safety position rather thin behind Igwebuike and Queiro.
Here's what the projected starters look like line up next to each other: