Big Ten football season is finally almost upon us. Despite the most confusing offseason in, well, quite some time, Northwestern is slated to play its first game of the season this Saturday. As is always the case in any given college football season, anything can happen. So with just under a week before Northwestern takes on Maryland, we decided to get daring with five bold takes for Wildcat football this season.
Disclaimer: Some of these predictions could be reasonable. Others not so much. These are meant to be bold and thought-provoking.
1. Paddy Fisher wins Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year
The Katy, Texas, native had a down year by his standards last season, as he was named to the All-Big defensive third team after earning first team honors in 2018. Now, the senior linebacker will have added responsibility as the anchor of this defense following the opt-outs of starting safety Travis Whillock and starting defensive end Samdup Miller. Although a plethora of talent returns on defense around the Big Ten, Fisher’s elite instincts and tackling abilities that made him elite in 2017 and 2018 certainly puts him in preseason contention for the award. It doesn’t hurt Fisher’s chances that Big Ten defensive standout Micah Parsons opted out of the season.
2. Peyton Ramsey and John Raine will connect for five touchdowns
Last season, John Raine caught six touchdowns at Florida Atlantic while playing behind Harrison Bryant, the nation’s best tight end. He should be TE1 this season in Mike Bajakian’s tight end-heavy offense, and his proven red zone effectiveness should make him an attractive option in the passing game for Peyton Ramsey. The two grad transfers will build a connection early on, and it will yield dividends in the form of touchdown scores. Gone are the superbacks.
3. Coco Azema will record 50 tackles
With the recent announcement of Travis Whillock’s decision not to play this season, the second starting safety spot across from JR Pace is now open for the taking. Junior Bryce Jackson will most likely fill that spot to start the season, as he has the most experience of any other safety on the roster. However, I believe that Azema has the potential to become a starter sooner rather than later. We saw glimpses of the redshirt freshman’s speed, explosiveness and impressive tackling ability in 2019, and regardless of whether or not he starts, he’s too talented to not see major playing time in the secondary this year.
4. The Big Ten completes a full football season
COVID-19 cases among players and coaches that will lead to game cancellations might be inevitable, but everyone’s hope is that the new protocols will allow the league to complete it’s nine-week season. We have already seen games in other conferences canceled, but for the most part, college football is still happening over a month of action. None of those conferences mandate daily testing and don’t seem to have the stringent policies articulated by the Big Ten. The hope is buying more time to hash out these protocols will allow the B1G to avoid virus outbreaks on teams. With a little bit of luck and faith, we’ll be watching a healthy Northwestern team taking on Illinois at an empty Ryan Field come Dec. 12.
5. Northwestern wins the Big Ten West
Bear with me here. I know Northwestern finished 3-9 last year, and yes, there are a lot of question marks on this team. But we shouldn’t forget that the starting quarterback for most of last year was a third-stringer, and that the ‘Cats finished second in the West in 2017 before claiming it in 2018. If NU can take advantage of its gettable schedule and take two of three from Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, it might just slip into the Big Ten Championship for the second time in three years and prove that last season was nothing but a blip on an otherwise upwards trajectory. Likely? No. But these predictions are meant to be bold, and in 2020 crazier things have happened.
Are these takes too bold? Somewhat reasonable? Sound off with your thoughts and your own bold predictions in the comments below!