To kick off a summer of football at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern's Top 10 Most Important Players in 2015. We've put our heads together as a staff, used the power of democracy, and come up with a list that will undoubtedly cause plenty of disagreement.
We've chosen to loosely define the criteria for our list as the players "who will have the biggest impact on the overall outcome of the season." However, we recognize that that's still open to interpretation. For some, it could mean the value of a player over his replacement. It could just mean best player. It could mean players in crucial roles. It could mean players who have underperformed who need to step up.
One thing is certain though: no two lists will be the same. That's why for each player, we'll enlist two of our writers to debate the merits of the player in question.
Coming in at No. 7 is safety Godwin Igwebuike. Josh Rosenblat and Ben Goren discuss:
Ben Goren (Igwebuike rank: 4): Northwestern returns seven out of its eight secondary players from its two-deep roster from 2014. The one loss might be the biggest loss of the entire team, though, as Ibraheim Campbell is off to the Cleveland Browns. The good news? Northwestern has Godwin Igwebuike.
Igwebuike entered the program as one of the gems in Northwestern's 2013 recruiting class. With offers from Duke, Michigan State and Wisconsin, Igwebuike was a recruiting coup, and expectations were always going to be high. As a redshirt freshman last year, Igwebuike exploded onto the scene with 3 interceptions and 7 solo tackles in Northwestern's big upset over Wisconsin. He wouldn't notch another interception the rest of the year, but he would tally 3 pass defenses on the year, and had 5 games with 5 or more tackles.
Igwebuike has shown that he's capable of the incredible, and he's shown that he can make some freshman mistakes. So how important is he for NU's defense next season?
Josh Rosenblat (Igwebuike rank: NR): My stance on Igwebuike is similar to yours: high-upside, room for improvement, ready to take on more of the defensive load on a week-to-week basis. With all that said, though, those aspects don't necessarily mean that he is one of the team's top-seven most important players. That is because, although he is replacing Campbell, we already have a glimpse of Igwebuike from a season ago. And, putting aside his standout game against Wisconsin, Igwebuike was competent in his four other starts and relief duty. But, most impressive from the freshman was his consistent play. His solidity on one side of the field actually exposed his counterpart Traveon Henry, a player I deem to be much more important for Northwestern at the safety spot. It seems that although he's just a freshman, we know what Igwebuike does well already based on his performance in 2014.
Ben Goren: We're mostly on the same page here. I have him ranked higher than you though, and it's exactly because of that other safety spot. Henry looked really slow at times last year, and having Campbell back there with him covered for a lot of that. But with Campbell gone, I feel pretty uneasy about the safeties.
I think we know more about what Henry is going to be than what Igwebuike is going to be. Henry is going to hit people into next week and fill gaps like a linebacker, but he's not going to be great playing as a deep safety, and he doesn't have very good speed. Campbell could cover for those shortcomings. I don't know if Igwebuike can for an entire season.
The rest of the Northwestern secondary are known qualities. We know Matt Harris, we know Nick VanHoose, and I'm pretty sure we know Traveon Henry. I don't think we know exactly what Igwebuike is yet. Making spot starts as a redshirt freshman and anchoring the back end of the secondary as a sophomore is a big role shift. Whether or not he can handle it is going to be one of the bigger stories of the NU defense.
Josh Rosenblat: See, I disagree with that. I don't think we know very much about Henry. To me, at least, he seemed like a much different player in 2013 than he did in 2014. In ‘13, he was flying around making plays not only in the run game, but also ranging sideline to sideline. When Henry is playing downhill and well, Northwestern seems like a much, much better team. Like you do, I have confidence in Igwebuike becoming a solid backbone for the defense, something Henry needs in order to succeed. In 2013, Henry had that in a healthy Campbell and in 2014 he did not. As a result, Northwestern's defense struggled as Henry did. Basically, it's Igwebuike that will be tapped to fill the consistent role of Campbell and Henry who will be relied on to get back to his intimidating playing style for Northwestern's defense to succeed at a more consistent level.
Ben Goren: If there's one thing I think both of us agree on, it's that the secondary should be in really good hands with all the returning talent. I've just seen way too many NU defensive backs have sophomore slumps for me to think that Igwebuike's second season is not going to be a big storyline. Is it going to be the Sherrick McManis/Matt Harris second year where they get a lot better? Or is it going to be more of the Nick VanHoose stagnation in his second year? Igweguike has a world of talent, there's no doubt about that. How he can string together 12 (or hopefully more) games as the centerfielder of the defense, in my mind, is the story of the 2015 NU secondary.
Josh Rosenblat: That last sentence is where we differ. Henry's play will dictate how well the secondary holds up in 2015. It's his play that we have seen waver from "Wow, he really drilled that guy!" and "Where the hell did that come from?" to "In what world would that have been the correct angle to take on a receiver?" and "Man, he just looks flat-out slow." One Henry pushes Northwestern toward a bowl bid. The other? Well, we've seen what happens.
Ben Goren: 4 | Kevin Dukovic: 4 | Zach Pereles: 6 | Henry Bushnell: 6 | Josh Burton: 9 Ian McCafferty: 10 | Michael Odom: 12 | Josh Rosenblat: NR | Jason Dorow: NR
Which side of this debate do you fall on? Who's more important, Igwebuike or Henry?