Northwestern football’s season has been over for over a month now, yet it still feels like we’re all still trying to process the horror that was 2019. December may not have left us with a bowl game to cover and give us closure for the campaign, but that hasn’t stopped there from being plenty of news coming out of Northwestern’s extended offseason thus far.
In case you checked out after the HAT victory and are just now coming back, let’s take a quick refresher on all that has happened since the ‘Cats last took the field just over a month ago.
- Mick McCall was removed from the staff
- Northwestern brought in Mike Bajakian as McCall’s replacement
- Three players, including Bennett Skowronek, entered the transfer portal
- Paddy Fisher confirmed he’s not leaving early for the NFL Draft
- Pat Fitzgerald inked his highest-ever rated recruiting class (but not without drama!)
- The Wildcats finally got their 2020 QB commit
- And most recently, Skowronek announced that he’d be pursuing his final year of eligibility at Notre Dame
As you can see, it has already been an eventful offseason, and there is still much more to be resolved before the 2020 season kicks off in seven months or so. We won’t get a ton of offseason access and news, but that won’t stop the speculation and occasional headline from popping up as the Wildcats look to bounce back from a dismal season.
That said, it’s time to start speculating! Aside from TJ Green potentially returning for a sixth-year and NU maybe adding/losing a few more pieces to grad transfers, we have a pretty good idea what this roster is going to look like in 2020. Here’s my take at a way-too-early projected two-deep for next season:
Way-too-early 2020 two-deep
|Position||First Team||Second Team|
|Position||First Team||Second Team|
|QB||Hunter Johnson OR Andrew Marty||Aidan Smith|
|RB||Isaiah Bowser||Drake Anderson|
|WR||Kyric McGowan||JJ Jefferson|
|WR||Riley Lees||Berkeley Holman|
|TE||Trey Pugh||Charlie Mangieri|
|LT||Rashawn Slater||Payne He'Bert|
|LG||Nik Urban||Cam Kolwich|
|C||Sam Gerak||Conrad Rowley|
|RG||Sam Stovall||Jesse Meyler|
|RT||Gunnar Vogel||Peter Skoronski|
|DE||Sam Miller||Eku Leota|
|DT||Jake Saunders||Jason Gold Jr.|
|DT||Trevor Kent||Joe Spivak|
|DE||Earnest Brown IV||Adetomia Adebawore|
|SAM||Chris Bergin||Michael Jansey Jr.|
|MIKE||Paddy Fisher||Erik Mueller|
|WILL||Blake Gallagher||Peter McIntyre|
|CB||Greg Newsome II||AJ Hampton|
|S||JR Pace||Bryce Jackson|
|S||Travis Whillock||Coco Azema|
|CB||Cam Ruiz||Rod Heard|
|Kicker||Charlie Kuhbander||Trey Finison|
|Punter||Trey Finison||Cody Gronewold|
|KR||Kyric McGowan||Riley Lees|
|PR||Riley Lees||Berkeley Holman|
|Long Snapper||Tyler Gilikin||Peter Snodgrass|
Intriguing Position Battles
Buckle up for a second straight offseason of not receiving any clarity under center! I have no doubt we’ll see the ‘OR” in the QB1 slot come the end of August. I left TJ Green off the depth chart, but his decision to return for a sixth-year would obviously throw a huge wrinkle into the quarterback mix for next season. The news that his cousin Bennett Skowronek will not be headed back to NU next year certainly doesn’t increase the chances that we’ll see Green back in Evanston for a sixth season.
No matter what Green does, it still feels like it’s going to be Johnson’s job to lose heading into 2020. This offense is getting a new scheme and a fresh start under Bajakian, so it only seems reasonable that the option with the most raw talent should be in the driver’s seat for now. That being said, Andrew Marty’s phenomenal performance to end the season against Illinois — the best game of any NU quarterback in 2019 — will have to at least keep his name in the starting conversation moving forward.
A much-improved Northwestern offensive line returns four of five starters, but change could be coming on the right side of the ball. Gunnar Vogel opened 2019 as the starter at right tackle, and Ethan Wiederkehr closed the season on the first team due to a Vogel injury that kept him out for the final chunk of the season. Neither player wowed in the time they saw on the field, thus seemingly opening the door for Peter Skoronski — the four-star crown jewel of the 2020 recruiting class — to compete for time right away.
The Park Ridge, Illinois native was recruited as a tackle, and RT would make the most sense as the position for him to come in and compete right away given that Rashawn Slater will have things locked down on the left side of the line for his senior season. The redshirt is always a possibility, but the highlight tape suggests that Skoronski has the size and ability to contribute right away.
The two-headed Northwestern punting attack of Daniel Kubiuk and Andrew David is out of eligibility, and it’s currently unclear where the punting duties will fall in 2020. Trey Finision was technically recruited as a kicker/punter, so he could be in for an expanded role after taking handling kickoffs in his true freshman season. The Wildcats currently have two punters on the roster in Jake Genyk and Cody Gronewold, but neither has punted in a real game before.
NU also recently got a commit from preferred walk-on and two-star punter Hunter Renner out of Mishawaka, Indiana this past week. Renner was recently named a MaxPreps All-American.
Marty Long will obviously have a ton of pass production to replace with Joe Gaziano moved on to bigger things (hopefully), and he’ll have some interesting pieces to work with as he explores his rotation in 2020. Earnest Brown didn’t quite have the big season many were expecting in 2019, although an injury was largely responsible for that.
A few younger guys showed out in Brown’s absence, though. Adetomiwa Adebawore and Eku Leota both showed ability to get pressure on the QB in their first full seasons of action, while former four-star recruit Devin O’Rourke is a name to keep an eye on despite him having his fair share of injury troubles throughout his collegiate career thus far. A healthy Samdup Miller should be this unit’s top edge player in his senior season, but there will be plenty of competition for the second starting slot alongside him.
Who steps up in the absence of graduated senior captain Trae Williams? Greg Newsome II will remain a viable number one corner if he stays healthy (that’s a big if), but this constantly injury-riddled position unit will have questions to answer in the second starting slot. Cameron Ruiz has shown flashes of promise throughout his career, and some younger pieces like Coco Azema and Rod Heard are a few other names to keep an eye on.