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VOTE: Drafting the All-Time Northwestern football team

Help us decide which editor drafted the best team.

Ever wanted to see Otto Graham, Austin Carr and the 1995-96 defense on the same team? Well now you can. Here at Inside NU, our five editors sat down for a Zoom draft to pick their all-time Northwestern football teams, which you — the readers — get to vote on.

How it worked was we conducted a snake-style draft where each editor had to choose one quarterback, two running backs, two pass catchers (TE/WR) and a defense in hopes of creating the best Northwestern football team possible.

There were certainly some surprises, like Colin drafting Clayton Thorson in the second round or Lia choosing Kain Colter at running back (?), but our opinions aside, we need you to choose a winner.

Read our explanations and watch the videos to help you choose which editor drafted the best all-time Northwestern football team and vote below!

The Inside NU All-Time Football Draft

Positions Daniel's Team Eli's Team Lia's Team Colin's Team Mac's Team
Positions Daniel's Team Eli's Team Lia's Team Colin's Team Mac's Team
QB Otto Graham Dan Persa Mike Kafka Clayton Thorson Zak Kustok
HB Tyrell Sutton Jason Wright Darnell Autry Damien Anderson Justin Jackson
HB Mike Adamle Greg Boykin Kain Colter (???) Noah Herron Venric Mark
WR Austin Carr D'Wayne Bates Jeremy Ebert Lee Gisendaner Richard Buchannan
WR Eric Peterman Ross Lane Kyle Prater Dan Vitale Drake Dunsmore
Defense 1995 'Cats 2017 'Cats 1948 'Cats 2012 'Cats 2015 'Cats

Lia Assimakopoulos

I know you probably have a lot of questions about my team like why go so far back for a defense? Or Kain Colter at running back? But humor me for just a minute as I explain the method to my madness and show you why my team is the best without a doubt.

I’ll start by addressing your inevitable questions. Why did I draft Kain Colter as a running back? Well when conducting my research, Colter slotted in at 10th on Northwestern’s all-time rushing list with over 2000 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns. While there are plenty of quality running backs in Northwestern history, including my starter Darnell Autry, I felt Colter’s impact on the school and the program deserved him a role on my team — just not at quarterback. Considering he recorded better stats than most RBs in NU history, I felt it was fair — even if my co-editors disagree.

Moving on to defense, the 1948-49 ‘Cats are completely underrated. While there wasn’t the same level of advanced stats that there are now, the ‘Cats dropped just two games all year to No. 4 Michigan and No. 2 Notre Dame — and allowed the No. 2 team in the nation to score just 12 points. They had three shutouts all season and gave up an average of only 9.1 points per game. Oh, and they also won the Rose Bowl.

For my other more understandable picks, I chose Darnell Autry in the first round because he is an absolute powerhouse. He’s the fourth-leading rusher in Northwestern history with almost 4000 yards and 35 touchdowns. He led his team to the Rose Bowl in the 1995-96 season. He finished fourth in the Heisman race that year, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and then finished seventh in the Heisman race again the following year.

As we noted, wide receiver isn’t the strongest group in Northwestern history, but I think I did a pretty good job with my picks. Ebert is the third-leading receiver in NU history with 2400 yards and 21 touchdowns. Prater also made his impact on the program after transferring from USC. In his senior season alone he led all receivers with 51 catches for 535 yards.

Finally, under center I chose Mike Kafka. Having a Super Bowl champion on my team definitely elevates it to a new level. He’s another player whose impact on Northwestern spans far beyond his time on the field during his four years, and he deserves recognition for that.

Don’t Be Hatin’ on Clayton (Colin Kruse)

Fight me, commenters.

My fellow editors seemed to be shocked that I reached so early for Clayton Thorson in this draft. Full disclosure, my initial plan was to draft Otto Graham then Kain Colter as a running back, a plan both Lia and Dan foiled. However, I knew deep in my heart that there was another guy behind center who was capable of rolling out to the right and hitting his man on the short pass.

As the Big Ten’s leader in games started behind center, Thorson accumulated a 36-17 record quarterbacking the ‘Cats to a few bowl bowl wins and a Big Ten Championship game berth. He holds program records for yards, touchdowns and completions. The man is a winner. He’s resilient. He’s also the only Northwestern quarterback I’ve actually watched (aside from golden god HJ, T.J. Green, Andrew Marty and Aidan Smith), and I grew up watching the likes of Marc Verica, Michael Rocco and Matt Johns throw away games for the Virginia Cavaliers. Maybe I’m naïve, but I want consistency and short passes from my QB.

My backfield is pretty strong with Damien Anderson and Noah Herron. Anderson is NU’s second all-time leading rusher behind JJTBC with nearly 4500 yards on the ground along with 38 rushing touchdowns. Herron saw much of his time at NU overlap with Jason Wright of Team Karp, but his senior season saw him as one of the nation’s best in rushing attempts and touchdowns.

My receiving options were not numerous, yet I'm satisfied with the two guys I selected. In Lee Gissendaner’s monster 1992 season, the junior was a top-10 pass-catcher in the nation. To add some grit, I also drafted Dan Vitale (whose name I initially mispronounced, thanks Dickie V.). The current Green Bay fullback led the ‘Cats in catches, receiving touchdowns and receiving yards during his senior season. The 2012 defense, led by Damien Proby and Ibrahim Campbell, while not as flashy as ‘95, ‘48 or ‘15, statistically put up good numbers that anchored a 10-3 side. Top 30 in points allowed per game, this squad finally delivered the ‘Cats a bowl win for the first time in a few generations.

This team has consistent winners and proud servants of the purple and white. Thorson’s five-yard PA-rollouts to Vitale will keep exhausted defenses on their toes between the dynamic duo of Anderson and Herron wearing them down.

Mac Stone

I like my team. I like it a lot.

Let’s start with the field general. Zac Kustok — a name that may not turn many heads considering he played in the early 2000s — ranks sixth in all time passing yards in Northwestern football history. Additionally, Kustok ranks second out of all Northwestern QBs in all time rushing yards. He’s the only QB in Northwestern history to rush for 1,000+ yards besides Kain Colter, who Lia has conveniently placed at running back. He is, without a doubt, the definition of a dual threat quarterback.

To top it off, Kustok boasts one of the best TD/INT ratios among all Northwestern QBs, having thrown 42 touchdowns and just 23 interceptions during his time in purple and white. For comparison, Thorson (Colin’s questionable choice of a quarterback) threw 61 touchdowns and 45 interceptions during his time in Evanston.

Let’s move on to Kustok’s main targets. Richard Buchanan ranks second all time in receiving yards behind only D’Wayne Bates. Buchanan has two 800+ receiving yard seasons to his name. In his junior year, Buchanan pulled in 94 receptions for the ‘Cats and eclipsed 1,100 receiving yards. He finished his Northwestern career with 22 receiving touchdowns. Dunsmore, my last pick of the draft, doesn’t have many stats that jump off the page, but is reliable. At 6-foot-3, the tight end is a solid redzone jump ball threat. He was a Dan Vitale before Dan Vitale, and that’s exactly what I need with the running game that I have.

Finally, we reach my backfield, which I believe is the best of our five teams. A backfield consisting of Justin Jackson and Venric Mark would be one of the most versatile duos in all of America. Jackson is, of course, the Wildcats’ all time leading rusher, but Mark is a bit of an oddball.

If we take Mark as his 2012 version, which is what I’m doing, we’re getting an absolute monster. In 2012, Mark rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry and also caught 20 passes for 104 yards. On top of that, Mark was voted a first team All-American punt returner in 2012, when he returned 15 punts for 280 yards and two touchdowns, an average of 18.7 yards per return. I was ecstatic when he was available in the third round.

Finally, we reach the defense, which was my second to last pick of the draft. I managed to snag the 2015 Northwestern defense, which was led by the likes of Anthony Walker Jr., Nick VanHoose, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Dean Lowry and many more. This defense finished the season ranked eighth in S&P+ rankings, while carrying a truly horrific offense to a 10 win season. While they were embarrassed in games against Michigan, Iowa and Tennessee, they were a phenomenal defense for the majority of the season, and having them backup this great offense makes for one heck of a football team.

Eli Karp

Balance is the key to my team, and I don’t need a long explanation to convince you why my team is the best. I’ll admit I forgot Otto Graham existed when it came to selecting a quarterback, so considering that I think I have the best signal caller out of anyone as well as the one who will fare the best against these impressive defenses. How would Otto Graham perform against the 1995 Rose Bowl defense?

I didn’t draft my roster like a fantasy team, because it’s not. All six players are part of the same offensive unit. So that immediately made me discount needing two top-tier running backs, since likely only one is going to be on the field at a given time. With that philosophy, I began by drafting at an area where I thought I’d create the biggest advantage: wide receiver. As I said on the Zoom call when I took D’Wayne Bates second overall, there’s Bates and there’s everyone else. NU historically has not been Wide Receiver U — just the opposite — so to nab the clear cut best pass catcher in program history was important. For reference, Bates caught 210 passes for 3,370 yards and 26 touchdowns during his time as a Wildcat. The next closest receiver in terms of receiving yards is Richard Buchanan at 2,474.

Wanting to add to my air raid offense, I added dual-threat quarterback Dan Persa, who put together two of the most electric seasons in Northwestern history. Newer fans may not be aware that pre-2015, NU under Fitz wasn’t the defense-first, ball control offense team we’re used to watching. It was the Wild West, and Persa embodied that. The best way to describe him is efficient. His career pass efficiency rating of 155.04 places third all-time in the Big Ten record books. He also logged a completion percentage of 72.7 — Division I’s career leader for that category — and averaged an impressive 8.2 yards per attempt, both the highest among quarterbacks in program history. His 34:13 TD to INT ratio speaks for itself, and he was mobile enough to score 10 times on the ground. Mind you, he put up these numbers starting only 20 games during an injury-affected career.

No, my running backs aren’t name brand like some others, but it’d be foolish to sleep on Jason Wright, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry, scored 34 total touchdowns and also presented himself as a receiver who averaged 10.7 yards per catch. Versatility is the name of my game. Beside a dynamic Persa in the backfield, the two of them plus Bates will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night. This offensive talent can thrive both on schedule and when plays break down, making them very tough to stop.

I was hoping people would overlook the 2015 defense — they didn’t, smartly — but I’m more than excited to have the 2017 unit. The backbone of a 10-3 season that included several overtime wins, this defense ranked in the top 20 of two important categories: scoring and S&P+. Allowing just 20.1 points per game, it ranked 17th in S&P+, a leading metric of efficiency. Most of all, the stacked unit made impact plays — Paddy Fisher logged 111 tackles and forced four fumbles; Joe Gaziano had nine sacks; Nate Hall had five sacks, two interceptions and six passes defended; and the safety tandem of Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro combined for 137 tackles, seven picks and 16 pass breakups. A good mix of veterans and young guns, this defense has produced and will produce several NFL players, and more than anything it knew how to win.

Okay fine, that took a little longer than I expected.

Daniel Olinger

I missed out on the “Core Four” skill position players of JJTBC, Autry, Anderson and Bates, and thus had to pivot in a new direction. Remember, running backs and wide receivers’ success is often linked and even dependent on the success of things they can’t control i.e. the offensive line and the quarterback. You can’t weaponize Bates or Buchanan if your gunslinger fires it over their head half the time, and one of the biggest revelations in the last decade of the NFL has been that you shouldn’t pay running backs because a) it’s not hard to find non-terrible replacements, and b) no back can overcome a set of crappy blockers.

That’s why my team is banking on players and position groups that are not dependent on the play of others. Sure, due to his being drafted in 1943, I can’t tell you Otto Graham’s passer rating, let alone his raw yards passed for. But, I do have these “stats” on hold — seven rings and 10 championship appearances in 10 NFL seasons, the fourth overall selection in the ‘43 draft and a division one basketball scholarship, as that was the sport Graham originally came to NU to play before falling in love with football. In fact, Graham actually played for the 1945-46 Rochester Royals, who won the National Basketball League championship that season, the same year he led the Browns to their first NFL title, making Graham one of only two people ever to have won a championship in two of the four major North American sports. So...yeah. I like my quarterback.

And we haven’t gotten to my defense yet. Sure, the ‘Cats have had a lot of great defenses in the past three decades, but of the ‘95 squad — the greatest team in Northwestern history — you’re not brining up a solid but non-spectacular 25.9 points per game. Nah, you’re gonna start talking about the unit that held Notre Dame to 15 in South Bend. The unit that held every single opponent under 20 points or fewer in each one of their 10 wins. The unit that was lead by the face of the program, Pat Fitzgerald.

Not to mention, I still got some dudes in Tyrell Sutton, who broke 1000 yards in his freshman and sophomore seasons before succumbing to injuries in his upperclassman years. Or in Mike Adamle, who won the 1970 Big Ten MVP, holds the school’s single game rushing yard record with a 316-yard performance against Wisconsin in 1969 and went on to become even more famous off the field for his roles in American Gladiators and WWE. Austin Carr is still hanging around in the NFL, and Eric Peterman is fifth all-time in total receiving yardage at Northwestern. All in all, my quarterback and defense greatly outclass my fellow editors’ choices, and I have enough talent at the replaceable positions of wide receiver and halfback to compensate in those areas, and thus I deserve to win this vote.

But if not me, just don’t for Lia. She cheated.


Whose team is the best?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Lia Assimakopoulos
    (33 votes)
  • 12%
    Colin Kruse
    (24 votes)
  • 26%
    Mac Stone
    (49 votes)
  • 9%
    Eli Karp
    (17 votes)
  • 33%
    Dan Olinger
    (62 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now

Bonus Questions:


Does Lia putting Kain Colter at running back count as cheating?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    (54 votes)
  • 61%
    (87 votes)
141 votes total Vote Now


Does Colin deserve to get dunked on in the comments for picking Clayton Thorson as the 2nd QB off the board?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    (75 votes)
  • 41%
    (53 votes)
128 votes total Vote Now


Did Daniel look stupid with those sunglasses on?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    (31 votes)
  • 18%
    (17 votes)
  • 47%
    (43 votes)
91 votes total Vote Now