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Northwestern football’s most important players — #4: Isaiah Bowser

The junior power back looks to recapture his freshman year magic.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

As summer gets underway and we get closer (hopefully!) to college football’s return, Inside NU is carrying on an annual tradition by counting down the players our staff has judged as most important to the team’s success in the coming season.

The definition of importance in this setting is, of course, up for interpretation, but that just makes this exercise all the more intriguing and, potentially, revealing. If you want to check out last year’s list, follow this link, and if you need a refresher on our overall rankings this time around, click on this one.

For each placement on the list, we’ve enlisted two of our writers to debate the merits of the player and their ranking. Next up, we’re taking a closer look at Isaiah Bowser the ball carrier. Bowser is looking to bounce back from an injury plagued season and recapture some of his freshman year dominance.

Lucio Vainesman (5)

Bowser finished a disappointing 2019 campaign with 204 yards and zero touchdowns. Such an output significantly contrasted his 2018 freshman season, during which he ran for 866 yards and six scores. The majority of those yards came in the span of six games. During that span, he tallied at least 18 touches in each contest, finishing with no less than 85 yards in each game. This dominant stretch hit its apex in his Big Ten West-clinching performance against Iowa, where he torched the Hawkeyes for 165 yards and a score.

The lack of production in 2019 can be attributed to one of many things: Bowser battled injuries throughout the season. Moreover, the offense rarely put together a decent drive, and his rhythm was out of wack due to constant quarterback change.

While we don’t know which version of Bowser we will see in 2020, we do know that his on-field production is imperative to the success of the Northwestern offense and consequently, the team as a whole. Over a two-year sample size, Bowser’s success correlates to team success:

- Northwestern is 4-0 when Bowser rushes for 100 yards

- Northwestern is 4-0 when Bowser finds the end zone

- Northwestern is 5-1 when Bowser gets at least 18 touches

Jackson Boolbol (4)

Despite coming off an injury that cost Bowser most of his sophomore season, he still may need to carry the majority of the load on offense. Northwestern’s passing offense struggled in the 2019 season, finding the end zone only six times and relying heavily on the ground game. The ‘Cats are also, for the most part, maintaining the structure of their offensive line with Rashawn Slater’s return for his senior season. In fact, four of five starters return from last year.

Uncertainty surrounds the quarterback position, but there is a rising consensus that graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey will win the job. A lack of depth at the wide receiver position remains, but thankfully, Northwestern will hang onto its most productive pass catcher in Riley Lees. With all this in mind, new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian will need to rely heavily on the ground-and-pound offense, and Isiah Bowser will be the driving force behind it.