Fall football in Evanston can’t come soon enough.
The weather’s getting colder and drearier in Evanston every day, so to cheer ourselves up, we’re starting to take a look ahead as to which players we can expect to be out on the field for Northwestern when the ‘Cats return to action next season.
The season may be over seven months away, but you know what they say, it’s never too early to start previewing the defending Big Ten West/Holiday Bowl champions.
So, without further ado, here is a way-too-early projection of who you’ll see on the field for Northwestern in the fall.
2019 projected two-deep
|eard||First Team||Second Team|
|eard||First Team||Second Team|
|Quarterback||Hunter Johnson||TJ Green|
|Running Back||Isaiah Bowser||John Moten|
|X-WR||Ben Skowronek||Bryce Kirtz|
|Y-WR||Riley Lees||JJ Jefferson|
|Z-WR||Ramaud-Chiaokhiao Bowman||Kyric McGowan|
|Superback||Cameron Green||Trey Pugh|
|LT||Rashawn Slater||Payne He'Bert|
|LG||Nik Urban||Cam Kolwich|
|C||Jared Thomas||Sam Gerak|
|RG||Sam Stovall||Jesse Meyler|
|RT||Gunnar Vogel||Ethan Wiederkehr|
|Defensive End||Joe Gaziano||Trent Goens|
|Tackle||Alex Miller||Trevor Kent|
|Tackle||Jake Saunders||Joe Spivak|
|Defensive End||Earnest Brown IV||Sam Miller|
|SAM||Blake Gallagher||Michael Jansey|
|MIKE||Paddy Fisher||Khalid Jones|
|WILL||Chris Bergin||Peter McIntyre|
|Cornerback||Greg Newsome||Rod Heard|
|Safety||JR Pace||Bryce Jackson|
|Safety||Travis Whillock||Joe Bergin|
|Cornerback||Trae Williams||Cam Ruiz|
|Kicker||Charlie Kuhbander||Drew Luckenbaugh|
|Punter||Trey Finison||Cody Gronewold|
|Kick Returner||Kyric McGowan||John Moten|
|Punt Returner||Riley Lees||Kyric McGowan|
|Long Snapper||Tyler Gillikin||Peter Snodgrass|
|Holder||TJ Green||literally who cares|
|Kickoff||Charlie Kuhbander||Drew Luckenbaugh|
Key Position Battles
1. Wide Receiver
This position battle should be an exciting one next season. Northwestern obviously loses last year’s leading receiver in Flynn Nagel, but a number of wide receivers who showed flashes of excellence throughout the 2018 season should provide Hunter Johnson with plenty of options to go to in the air. Ben Skowronek will likely continue his place in the X-slot, but highly touted incoming freshmen Bryce Kirtz and Genson Hooper-Price, two of the top prizes of this year’s recruiting class, could challenge for playing time early on.
Ramaud-Chiaokhiao Bowman, Riley Lees and JJ Jefferson could all be thrust into bigger roles with the departure of Nagel, and each one showed they’re more than capable of coming up with big catches when given the opportunity throughout the season.
2. Left Tackle (and the other two departing OL starters)
The offensive line remains the biggest question mark of this 2019 roster. Jared Thomas started every game at center in 2018 and will do the same in 2019, but besides that, I truthfully have no idea how the ‘Cats will line up in the trenches. Rashawn Slater has started 26-straight games at right tackle since arriving in Evanston two seasons ago, but the departure of Blake Hance could mean Slater is heading over to the other side of the ball next season given his experience. Nik Urban made three starts in 2018 filling in for injury (one at LG, two at RG), so he will likely fill in at one of those slots. All in all, the departure of three starters, a veteran OL coach, and a lack of talent/experience coming up the pipeline raises serious concern regarding the Northwestern o-line next season.
3. Defensive Tackle
Northwestern has big shoes to fill in Jordan Thompson (35-consecutive starts before sitting out Holiday Bowl) and Fred Wyatt (10 starts last year) if it wants to continue its success of stopping the run next year. Alex Miller is the next man up at the defensive tackle position for the ‘Cats and will be tasked with anchoring a stifling run-defense that gave Northwestern an advantage among nearly every opponent it faced in 2018. Jake Saunders, Joe Spivak and Trevor Kent all saw brief stints of time at the position last season, and one will likely have to emerge into a reliable run-stopper next to Miller in order for the Wildcats to maintain a guaranteed advantage in the trenches week-in and week-out.
4. WILL linebacker
Another huge uncertainty surrounding the 2019 defensive until is Nate Hall’s replacement at linebacker along side Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher. Gallagher will likely assume strong-side linebacking duties after an impressive 2018 campaign, leaving the weak side position up in the air. Chris Bergin got the starting nod when Hall opted out of the Holiday Bowl, so as of now, he earns a spot as the third projected starter. Keep an eye out for redshirt freshman Khalid Jones and early enrollee Michael Jansey to compete for time next to Fisher-Gallagher as well.
Jake Collins (for the most part) provided Northwestern with stability at the punting position compared to previous years, and there’s a strong chance the Wildcats are going to feel the graduate transfer’s absence immediately. Cody Gronewold and Jake Genyk are the only two other punters on the roster, but neither has seen any action for the ‘Cats thus far in their careers. Trey Finison also joins the NU special teams unit as an early-enrollee K/P who played high school football in Tuscaloosa.