We don't know anything.
We might think we do. We might act like we do. We might even write as if we do. But the reality is that, after a spring of practices closed to the media, our knowledge of what Northwestern football will look like in 2015 is sparse.
Of course, we don't actually know nothing. We know that, barring injury, Dean Lowry will start somewhere on the defensive line; we know that Matt Harris and Nick VanHoose will, in all likelihood, be the starting cornerbacks; we know that Justin Jackson, provided he is healthy, will be a key piece on offense.
But there are so many unknowns surrounding Northwestern football at the moment. Even some of those statements above need qualifiers. A rash of spring injuries have muddled up the depth chart, and have discouraged the making of any concrete observations.
Saturday will be a chance to learn... maybe. The Wildcats likely won't show anything of note to a BTN audience, but there will be plenty to watch to see how much information we can gather. Here are a few important areas on which to focus:
The quarterback competition is one situation where we readily admit that we don't know much. We don't even know how much Pat Fitzgerald and Mick McCall know. There's a very real chance that, internally, Northwestern will know who its starting quarterback is well in advance of the season opener, but that the news won't be made public until the absolute last minute, the day of the Stanford game.
A lot the evaluation of the quarterbacks, therefore, is speculation. But there are a few things to watch:
- Last Saturday, it was Clayton Thorson who often got the first shot to run the first team offense. Fitzgerald said the quarterbacks take turns though, and it just happened to be Thorson's day at the head of the rotation. Will it 'just be Thorson's day' again this Saturday?
- Matt Alviti is a good athlete. He can make plays with his legs. But let's keep an eye on his decision making, and specifically his decisiveness. Fitzgerald says he now has a better grasp of the offense. If he does, he should move through his progressions crisply, deliver balls on time, and refrain from panicking when his receivers fail to get separation.
- Is there anything that makes Zach Oliver stand out? We can talk about experience all we want, but experience alone isn't going to win Oliver the job. He's got to show something. Does he have the strongest arm of the three? Is he the safest with the ball?
- The first thing to watch here is not performance, but rather opportunity. As far as the depth chart goes, here's what we saw last Saturday. Let's see if the rotation, and the first- and second-team alignments, are the same. If there are any changes, that's noteworthy.
- Geoff Mogus has been a guard most of his career, but was playing left tackle last Saturday. We'll try to find out if that's a permanent move, but let's also watch his performance. Assuming he is at tackle again, does he seem comfortable dealing with defensive ends?
- The most intriguing position battle in the trenches is at right tackle. Blake Hance, by most accounts, is one of the more talented offensive linemen on the roster, but is only a redshirt freshman. He is competing with veteran Eric Olson. Will there be a noticeable difference between the two?
- Auston Anderson is fun to watch. For many fans, Saturday will be the first time seeing him in action. Pay attention every time he gets the ball.
- As our Zach Pereles mentioned on Friday's Pound the Talk podcast, with all the injuries at wide receiver, Pierre Youngblood-Ary has an opportunity to play himself into the rotation. He's 6-foot-3 with some speed, and could be a solution to the Wildcats' wideout troubles.
- In general, before drawing any conclusions, be aware of injuries that could explain why a certain player is running with the first team or playing out of position. Towards the beginning of practice, we'll hopefully be able to publish a list of all injuries and practice absentees.
How to Watch
Where: Lakeside Field
When: 11 a.m. CT
TV: Big Ten Network (Dave Eanet, Dan Persa)