The weeks leading up to football season are always a time of looking forward to the impending season with hope and optimism. Yesterday, we did the opposite and got very pessimistic about Northwestern football. Today we’re going to embrace the preseason spirit and look at all the reasons why Northwestern is going to be good this year.
Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the 2016 campaign.
1. Anthony Walker, Tyler Lancaster
There are a lot of worries about the amount of turnover that Northwestern’s top five defense will face in 2016 and for the most part it’s justified. The team loses five seniors and that will be difficult to overcome if their replacements don’t produce. However, let’s focus on what Northwestern brings back. Honestly, not much, just AN ALL-AMERICAN LINEBACKER and a 300-pound beast of a man who can run down wide receivers.
Walker is one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten (it’s either him or Raekwon McMillan) and a legitimate first round draft pick if he plays well this year. He can do it all: stop running backs at the line, run down quarterbacks, lead the defense, the list goes on. He’s The Franchise for a reason. But enough about Walker; let’s talk about Tyler Lancaster.
Lancaster is an absolute beast. He can bench 225 pounds 32 times and still probably runs a sub 5.0 40-yard dash. You might not hear a lot about Lancaster in season, and that’s the way he likes it. He started all 13 games last year, recorded 33 tackles and 5.5 TFLs, and was overshadowed by guys like Walker and Dean Lowry. Lancaster will be one of the best lineman in the nation this season; lock it down.
And that’s not even to mention Matt Harris and Godwin Igwebuike in the secondary. We just had to give some love specifically to the All-American and the big man up front.
2. The team hit the weight room hard
In all three of Northwestern’s losses last season, it got absolutely dominated at the line of scrimmage. The Wildcats lost those games because they weren’t physical enough. Well, the team took that to heart this offseason and have been absolutely dominating the weight room. According to Pat Fitzgerald, about 400 personal records have been set this offseason. The Big Ten Media Day attendees were even setting PRs in the hotel workout room the night before Media Days opened. That’s how committed they were. This is going to be one of the strongest teams in Northwestern history, and the quality of play will benefit from it.
3. Clayton Thorson will be better
This truly is the point on which the entire season will hinge, but Clayton Thorson will absolutely be better in 2016. As successful as last season was, it wasn’t a great environment to develop a quarterback in. Due to the amount of close games and the pressure of having big bowl aspirations, any mistake Thorson made was magnified 100 times. He had a great defense and a great running back, so his entire job just turned into not making a mistake. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a freshman quarterback.
However, Thorson has now had a full offseason of being the starting quarterback, and there are plethora of ways in which he will improve. He’ll be more accurate, more confident, and smarter in the pocket. We don’t know how much Thorson will actually improve, and expecting too much of him would be ill advised, but we do know that Northwestern will have a better quarterback in 2016 than they did in 2015.
4. Pat Fitzgerald is the head coach
Here are some fun facts about Northwestern under Pat Fitzgerald. Since he took over as head coach in 2006, Northwestern is 70-56 (.556) and has appeared in six bowl games, winning one. In the previous 130 years of Northwestern football, the team is 433-586-44 (.425) and appeared in six bowl games, winning one. Think about that for a second. Many people seem to take Fitzgerald for granted, especially after the lull of 2013-2014, but he’s actually a really good coach and is still the coach of Northwestern in 2016. He gets the most out of his players and wins close games at an absurd rate. There’s a reason to be excited right there.
5. They Won 10 Games Last Year!
Finally, here’s the kicker: no matter what happened in the Outback Bowl, and no matter what the national media might say, the Wildcats won 10 games last season. For only the fourth time ever! The analytics say they shouldn’t have, but they did, and we like wins, no matter how they come about! They’re taking that momentum with them into 2016. Sure 2013 wasn’t the follow up everyone hoped for after 2012, but this isn’t 2013. It’s a new season with new players and no unionization efforts. This will be a good team, maybe even one of the better ones in Northwestern history. It just has to hope that the win column reflects that. It’s still the offseason for another week, so before we all start tearing our hair out analyzing this team, let’s just sit back and enjoy the fact that Northwestern won 10 games last season.
And one HAT.