There are never too many question to be answered before a college football season. So, in a joint enterprise with our fellow SBNation college blogs, we are taking a look today at some of the bigger ones. If you are just catching up with this NU football team and want a big picture look at the ‘Cats heading into 2019, this is the preview for you.
Who is Northwestern’s most important player on offense? - QB1 (or 2?)
We’re less than two weeks away from the season, and it’s still virtually impossible to answer this question. Scoff at Pat Fitzgerald all you want, but the quarterback battle in Evanston is very very real. It comes down to two players, five-star transfer Hunter Johnson and redshirt senior TJ Green.
After Johnson announced his transfer from Clemson last year, it was just assumed that the talented QB would take the reigns from Clayton Thorson after he finished his final season with the program, but as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend!”
Fitz has (predictably) given no indication as to who will be the starter, much like last year, and there are multiple possibilities for week one against Stanford. The fifth-year senior Green could pull away and get the ball to start, Johnson could get the nod, or the two could engage in a rotational scheme similar to what Fitz did last year with Thorson and Green to star the year.
One thing I can promise you, however, is that the public will have no idea what the answer is to this conundrum until the starter trots out onto the field of Stanford Stadium.
Who is Northwestern’s most important player on defense? - Paddy Fisher
A force in the middle of the defensive unit, Fisher will be the centerpiece for Mike Hankwitz’s group this year. Fisher has first-round aspirations, and it’s easy to see why. The Katy, Texas native has proven himself as an elite linebacker with his ability to get to the ball as well as drop into coverage when needed.
A sophomore campaign in which Fisher racked up third team All-America and Big Ten first team honors was written with 116 tackles, four forced fumbles and three passes defended. He’s a special player, and he’ll be even more of a leader this year. It is going to be a fun year watching Fisher in the middle.
What should be the biggest change between last year and this year? - Performance against weaker competition
Don’t get me wrong, Northwestern’s 2018 season should be viewed as a massive success, but it’s hard to look at the year and not think about a disappointing blowout loss to Duke and a brutal loss to Akron, both at home. If Fitz wants to achieve the goals that he has set for his team, it can’t slip up in that type of game. These are the games that solidify the national recognition that NU fans have been dying to receive over the course of a few very successful seasons.
Matchups against weaker non-conference foes like UNLV and UMass need to be wins for the ‘Cats, or there will be a major sense of disappointment within the program. Of course, the team has proven it can have success despite slipping on banana peels, but everyone will want to avoid that scenario this year.
What is the most important game on the schedule, and why? - 9/28 @Wisconsin
There are so many choices I could go with here, but I’m going to go with the Badgers. Northwestern’s win in 2018 against Wisconsin was a catalyst for the run to the division crown, and 2019’s contest could prove to be a similar springboard. The Badgers are a bit of an unknown this year, so no one can be too sure of what to expect, but a win in Madison would be massive for Northwestern’s bid to repeat as Big Ten West champions.
Ohio State under the lights, Stanford to open the season, a Nebraska team with massive expectations and a classic battle with Iowa all await the Wildcats, but the contest in Wisconsin will be as important as any of them.
What is your season prediction? - 8-4 with a fourth straight bowl victory
This is going to be another successful year in Evanston. Fitz’s team is extremely well-rounded and as long as the starting quarterback can be an effective game-manager that makes some big plays when needed, I’m confident that NU will pull off some big upsets like they normally do and compete for another division title. The stats aren’t always pretty, but the Wildcats have an outstanding track record of wearing teams down to win close games in the fourth quarter.
Northwestern’s schedule is incredibly difficult, but the West is so wide open that they will be right in the thick of things. The ‘Cats open the season at 4-4 before sweeping their last four, cementing a solid season. Bring on the Cardinal.