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Top offensive position battles for Northwestern in 2020

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Who’s going to earn their time with the ones?

Minnesota v Northwestern Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

As we’ve covered in-depth over the last few months, there are many questions and concerns about this new Northwestern offense going into the 2020 football season. Since Fitz is notorious for keeping things close to the chest, we likely won’t have any answers until/if the ‘Cats take the field against a currently unknown opponent, but there are a number of key position battles to watch before fall camp begins.

Center

Players battling: Sam Gerak, Peter Skoronski

Northwestern loses only one starting offensive lineman in center Jared Thomas, but it’s going to be a large hole to fill. There’s no immediate successor for the job, but Sam Gerak seems the likely replacement after fairly solid play in 2019. Although the redshirt junior played primarily at right guard last season, 247Sports ranked him as the 8th best center in the country coming out of high school.

The addition of highly touted incoming freshman Peter Skoronski could shake things up. The local product is Northwestern’s highest-rated recruit of the rankings era according to 247Sports, which also rated him the best center in America. Gerak’s got good size and enough game experience to make him the front-runner, but Skoronski could quickly mature and challenge him for the starting role depending on how the season goes.

Projected starter: Sam Gerak

Tight End

Players battling: Charlie Mangieri, Trey Pugh, John Raine, Thomas Gordon, Alex Oelsner

Going into 2019, the hope was either then-sophomores Trey Pugh or Charlie Mangieri would be able to replace Cam Green’s 450+ receiving yards and four touchdowns from 2018. Neither panned out as a viable option.

The group’s poor performance from last year, makes graduate transfer John Raine the favorite. In his last season at FAU, Raine caught 38 balls for 343 yards and six touchdowns, despite sharing the roster with the nation’s best tight end Harrison Bryant. He’s by far the most proven player of the group, and although the other four will probably see the field in some capacity, you can expect to see a lot of Purple Raine on the field this year. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Mangieri assume a blocking role as he did in 2018.

Projected starter: John Raine

Quarterback

Players battling: Peyton Ramsey, Hunter Johnson, TJ Green, Andrew Marty, Aidan Smith

Northwestern has eight (!) quarterbacks on its roster, three of whom saw significant playing time last season.

Similar to the competition at tight end, it’s likely the graduate transfer with the most experience and results, Peyton Ramsey, earns the starting role. Ramsey has already established from his time as a starter at Indiana that is a competent Big Ten quarterback, while Hunter Johnson and Aidan Smith struggled, combining for four touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Junior Andrew Marty enjoyed some success at the end of last year after the fourth-stringer led NU to its only conference win of 2019, but few view him as the long-term solution.

We also can’t forget TJ Green. After sitting behind Clayton Thorson for four years and suffering a season-ending injury in last year’s season opener, the sixth-year senior has one last shot to win the starting job.

Projected starter: Peyton Ramsey

Honorable mentions: Z-receiver