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Roundtable: What is Northwestern football’s worst position group?

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Most of our staff has low expectations for the QB room again this season.

Lia Assimakopoulos: Tight Ends/Superbacks

Still not really sure what to call this group, but I don’t have high hopes for the tight ends again this season. Since Cam Green medically retired last offseason, the group’s production has been next to none while they serve as more of a liability than an asset to the offense. While the addition of John Raine could indeed be significant and a step in the right direction, it’s hard to know how he will perform against top Big Ten competition. Ultimately, I think the group still brings a lot of uncertainty both this season and in the long run.

Daniel Olinger: Quarterback

Seems like low hanging fruit considering the performance produced by this position group in 2019, but allow me to explain. I like Peyton Ramsey a lot and fully expect him to win the starting job based on my own evaluation of his past performance and by how glowingly new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian talked about him during the last media conference call. However, Ramsey is but one man playing in a very vulnerable spot, and as seen last year, a quarterback getting injured is a case of “when” not “if”.

None of those other guys in the room have truly proven themselves. Hunter Johnson has talent but was just bad on the field last year. Andrew Marty and T.J. Green both showed promise but in very small sample sizes. The weekly Aidan’s Attempts column became a test case in one’s slow acceptance of helplessness. Should Ramsey go down, there’s no guarantee that the ‘Cats don’t revert back to their offensively inept ways. The running back group might lack star power, but at the very least Bowser, Anderson and Hull have all proved to be non-catastrophic options should the injury bug strike. The same cannot be said for the QB’s.

Mac Stone: Quarterbacks

As Daniel previously mentioned, the quarterback play in the 2019 season was nothing short of horrific. To put it simply, this group is unproven. Hunter Johnson was nothing like what we expected. T.J. Green’s injury put an end to his season, and Aidan Smith just played poorly. Andrew Marty showed more promise as a running back than a quarterback in the win over Illinois. It’s a perplexing bunch. Much like Daniel, I fully expect Peyton Ramsey to win the starting job, but what comes next? What happens if Ramsey goes down like Green did? Who’s the next man up? The true position battle won’t be for QB1, but for second string. Ramsey is the only one with some sort of resume.

Claire Kuwana: Tight Ends

I definitely have to agree with Lia on this one. This position group had some serious difficulties last season and made little to no impact on the offense. Both returning starters, Charlie Mangieri and Trey Pugh, weren’t huge talents for the ‘Cats in 2019, so it looks like we will be relying on newcomer John Raine to turn this group around. To echo Lia, it’s hard to know what is going to happen with this position group and whether or not they will be able to improve their production this fall.

Colin Kruse: Quarterback

No hot takes here. As previously mentioned, Northwestern’s quarterback woes were massive in 2019. Peyton Ramsey’s transferring could be massive for the group, as he has at least a little bit of a proven track record of success against Big Ten competition. Even if Ramsey wins the starting competition, who backs him up? Is T.J. Green going to be fully healthy? What about Hunter Johnson? Where does he factor in to all of this? It’s a crowded room with a lot of unknown variables at this time.

Eli Karp: Quarterback

Not much new to add here. The room got a big boost when it landed Peyton Ramsey, but that doesn’t preclude it from a litany of question marks. The Indiana grad transfer is a steadying force, but he’s no savior. And we saw what happened last year when fans thought there was a hero coming in to sling it around. With new energy and what should be a refreshing play book, the QB play should progress (in this case) to the mean, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a limiting factor. At least Northwestern has seven (!) signal callers on its roster if anyone gets injured or needs to quarantine.

William Karmin: Pass Catchers

This is a complex question, but it becomes a bit easier upon the realization that we can eliminate an entire side of the ball...and that would be the defense. Offensively, let’s start start with the quarterbacks. A lot of our staffers have answered this position as the team’s biggest weakness/question mark, and while this group is filled with uncertainty, it is not the team’s worst position group. We know what Peyton Ramsey can do. At the very worst, he should give NU average production at the position. If he is beaten out for the starting job, then Northwestern should ideally receive better than average play from their QB.

That leads us to the running backs. I am not sure what to expect from Isaiah Bowser, Drake Anderson and Coco Azema (?), but the unit should outperform whichever group establishes itself as the weak link on this team...which leads us to the pass catchers. Given the uncertainty between Charlie Mangieri and John Raine, the tight end position seems like an inevitable answer.

But, I will stretch my answer a bit to the pass catchers as a whole. We are yet to see Riley Lees, Kyric McGowan, RCB and the host of other Wildcat receivers establish themselves as a legitimate group in the Big Ten.

Lucio Vainesman: Wide Receivers

Quarterback naturally came up when thinking about the worst position groups due in large part to the atrocious production from that position last year. However, with Peyton Ramsey announcing his transfer to Northwestern and T.J. Green hopefully finishing his recovery, there’s hope that the position will improve from last year’s group. There are truly no words to encapsulate how awful the offense was last year, and as much blame as the quarterbacks deserve for the poor production, the receiving corps didn’t make it easier on them.

There was little to no separation on routes and when the ball did happen to find the receivers, there was no spark or explosion after the catch. In order for the offense to get going in 2020, the receivers have to be able to evade tackles and make something out of nothing every now and then, or else history might repeat itself and it could be another slow year for the offense.

Jacob Brown: Kicker

When there is a problem spot on the roster, Fitz and his staff usually do a pretty good job at filling it. For instance, after a season in which NU struggled on offense, they went out and got Peyton Ramsey and John Raine from the transfer portal. When Jeremy Larkin suddenly retired, Isaiah Bowser stepped in quickly and filled the role well. That’s why it is so perplexing that Charlie Kuhbander is still NU’s kicker. Seventy-one percent on field goals for his career isn’t awful, but it isn’t great.

The real problem is when you start looking at specific games, and some of the awful misses that he has had. In 2019, NU lost to Nebraska by three and Purdue by two. Charlie had a miss in each. In the brutal home loss to Akron in 2018, NU lost by five. Kuhbander was 0-for-2 (although both kicks were fairly long). NU won the Music City Bowl by one point after a failed UK two-point conversion for the win. Kuhbander missed while NU was up three in the second quarter. The fact of the matter is that Drew Luckenbaugh made the biggest kick of NU’s season in 2018. I know that hindsight is 20/20, but would you trust Kuhbander to make that kick? Me either.