As with any Northwestern football season, whether it be preseason camp, week three or even week 10, there is little certainty as to how the season will shake out. Of course, that won’t stop us from speculating about what crazy things could happen along the way. So, a week and a half before the Big Ten West Champs of 2018 begin their title defense, it’s time to go out on a limb with some bold predictions.
Disclaimer: Some of these predictions could be reasonable. Others not so much. These are meant to be bold and thought-provoking.
- There will be a mid-season quarterback change - This might seem crazy, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened. We have no clue who will take the first snaps under center at Stanford, and as we saw last year, there is no guarantee that the starter will play the entire game. The coaches continue to talk about going with the guy who is most comfortable with the playbook, and right now my gut would say TJ Green knows it better. Give it some time, though, and we may see an entrance from Johnson later on.
- The defense will record 40 sacks - Stop me if you’ve heard the words “bend-don’t-break” used before to describe Mike Hankwitz’s unit. For as stout as the Northwestern defensive line was against the run last season, pressuring the quarterback was an issue: the Wildcats finished with a mere 24 sacks, fourth-worst in the Big Ten. This year’s personnel dictate more natural pass rushers and fewer run stoppers, so I think the men up front will get home more often, even if they aren’t as consistent against in the other phase.
- Hunter Johnson and Bryce Kirtz will connect for five touchdowns - This is contingent upon Johnson being the starting quarterback for some significant amount of time and Kirtz making enough of a splash in his freshman year to see playing time at a deep position group. However, the two Brownsburg High School teammates have something that it’s hard for Johnson to have with any other Wildcat receiver just yet, and that’s chemistry. Kirtz’s athleticism combined with Johnson’s impressive skill set could lead to a fun QB-WR connection.
- Northwestern fans will outnumber Ohio State fans at the 10/18 matchup - This is the game within (or maybe outside of?) the game. Ryan Field has long been a beacon of available tickets for opposing fans, though Wildcat fans showed out pretty well against both Wisconsin and Notre Dame last year. It sure seemed like there was more Scarlet and Grey in Evanston five years ago, and Buckeye fans dominated Lucas Oil Stadium by what was probably somewhere around a 4:1 margin. As NU continues to improve as a program and big name opponents come to town, though, both students and alumni have made it a point to attend these games.
- Kyric McGowan will score 10 touchdowns - Breakout alert. The junior has gamebreaking speed, and it’s up to Mick McCall to utilize it and McGowan to take advantage of a larger role. We saw flashes of brilliance last year, and now he’ll be called upon to be more of a consistent receiver to complement his big-play capability. Is ten a bullish projection given his two last year? Maybe. But finding ways to get him the ball is something the offense should do, especially now that Bennett Skowronek will be more covered as the number-one option.
- Earnest Brown outsacks Joe Gaziano - In a similar situation to that of McGowan, Brown is my prediction for defensive breakout player of the year. He’s got the size, motor and talent, and he’s made big plays like the scoop-and-score against Nebraska, needing only to really become consistent in order to make a splash. The Texas native was quietly second on the team in both tackles for loss and sacks, and everyone knows about Gaz now. This is the year Brown becomes a nationally talked-about pass rusher.
- TJ Green/Hunter Johnson record -200 rushing yards this season - Clayton Thorson took the opportunity to run when he saw it both before and after his ACL tear. Despite his athletic prowess, he finished with -110 rushing yards last season. That’s because he was sacked 36 times, the most in the Big Ten, and when a play broke down he didn’t have much time to salvage things with his legs. Yes, the early returns on Kurt Anderson are high, but for a unit that was questionable last year and lost multiple starters, the anxiety about it is reasonable.
- Isaiah Bowser rushes for fewer yards than last season - See above. Bowser matured as the season progressed and began to make more happen on his own, but his running style isn’t make-you-miss. He’s a wrecking ball and doesn’t need much of a hole to run through, but if the offensive line can’t move their opponents as defenses continue to stack the box, he will have a rough time of it.
- Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher combine for nearly 300 tackles — The busy duo totaled 243 takedowns last year, and there are bound to be more running backs getting into the second level with a run defense that is re-tooling on the fly. DC Mike Hankwitz may also have to rely more on them up front as well. This is their year, and they could anchor Northwestern’s best position unit.
- Northwestern scores a kick return touchdown — The Wildcats’ kickoff and punt returns are rarely something to get excited about. With plenty of speedsters on the depth chart, maybe that changes this year. In Kyric, Riley Lees, Berkeley Holman, and maybe even John Moten IV we trust.
The accuracy rate on these might be low. Let’s hear your thoughts and bold predictions in the comments section below!