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Northwestern football season in review: Superback player grades

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Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

With Northwestern's regular season over, and only the bowl game remaining, it's time to evaluate the Wildcats' 2015 season. Over the next two weeks, between Monday, Dec. 14 and Christmas, we'll be going position by position and doling out grades to every Northwestern player that was a significant contributor this year. We'll start with the quarterbacks, progress through the offense, move over to the defensive side of the ball, and then finish up with special teams and coaches on Christmas Eve.

Today, we look at the super backs.

Dan Vitale: B

33 receptions, 355 yards, 4 touchdowns

In his senior season, Vitale emerged as Clayton Thorson's top receiver and led the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He also played a big role in Northwestern's running game, helping seal the edge as a tight end and pave the way as a fullback. This versatility is what makes Vitale so special, and an NFL prospect.

Despite his team-leading numbers, Vitale was massively underused as a receiver by offensive coordinator Mick McCall this season. His 33 receptions and 355 yards were both Vitale's lowest totals since he amassed 28 and 288 his freshman year. He seemingly wasn't targeted at all at times, as he had just one reception in three games and only two receptions another three times. It's hard to penalize Vitale for his lack of involvement in the offense, especially with a freshman quarterback that struggled with accuracy and pass efficiency. But the fact of the matter is that Vitale's production was down in every statistic but touchdowns.

When involved in the offense, however, Vitale produced. The senior's best game of the year came against a pesky Ball State team in which he had 5 catches for 105 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown, the longest catch of his career. His second touchdown, a 22-yard reception, put Northwestern ahead for good. Vitale's third and fourth touchdowns were just as meaningful; the third was a 37-yard reception against Nebraska where Vitale stretched to get into the endzone to put Northwestern up 27-22 while the fourth came on a dangerous throw to the flat from Thorson that Vitale juggled, hauled in, and turned up the sideline for a 19 yards to tie up the Illinois game. He also caught five big passes against Penn State. Vitale played well when used in the offense but with his receptions and yards being down from his sophomore and junior seasons, he earns a B.

Garrett Dickerson: C-

11 receptions, 133 yards, 0 touchdowns

Like Vitale, it's hard to punish Dickerson for his lack of involvement in the offense. At 6'3", 250 pounds, the Wildcats were probably hoping to see a lot of growth from Dickerson in his sophomore campaign, especially as a receiver. He is definitely next in line to see more playing time with the graduation of Vitale, and will likely become a more consistent part of the offense next season. The blue-chipper's production was somewhat limited by an injury he suffered against Ball State, causing him to miss the Minnesota game. He still went without a reception in two full games.

Dickerson's two best games of the year came in big wins against Penn State and Wisconsin. He had a big 26-yard reception on third down against the Nittany Lions as well as a 20-yard reception against the Badgers. Dickerson did, however, drop what would have been a big completion in the Penn State win. Dickerson's production this season is worthy of a passing grade, but his lack of consistency, as well as a couple untimely drops, keeps him at a C-.