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 discuss the merits of the player and their ranking. Finally, our staff’s No. 1 most important player is the group that caused Northwestern the most difficulties last season but must improve significantly in 2020 if the team hopes to succeed — the quarterback (whoever that may be).
Louis Yang (1)
We’re all beating a dead horse at this point. We know the quarterback play must improve after last season’s disaster. It is a shame that the ‘Cats had a top-20 defense paired with arguably the worst passing offense in the nation. However, to Fitz’s credit, it appears that he acknowledged that the quarterback is the most important position this offseason after bringing in grad transfer Peyton Ramsey along with firing longtime offensive coordinator Mick McCall. Serious changes are needed, but the QB room very well could take major strides in 2020.
It seems as though the overwhelming consensus is that Ramsey will be under center whenever the season starts. He is a proven talent in the Big Ten and is the deciding factor on whether or not Northwestern will be able to return to a bowl game with five very winnable conference games.
With nine starters returning on defense, all Northwestern needs to be competitive in the Big Ten West is a stable quarterback presence. With productive pieces such as Isaiah Bowser and Riley Lees returning, the ‘Cats do not need a particularly explosive passing offense. Adding in the fact that Bajakian may implement a run-heavy offense — if his offense at Boston College is any indication — then Northwestern may just need a game-managing QB.
In reality, it is a lot to ask a QB who has never gone through spring practice under a new scheme to run an explosive passing offense. With a formidable offensive line that stars Rashawn Slater, Ramsey should be able to keep defenses honest with his passing ability to set up the run game. The NU offense must establish an honest passing attack to prevent defenses from stacking the box as they did last year.
In short, establishing some semblance of a passing attack will be the difference from another two-to-three win season or a potential seven-to-eight win season. The defense is elite and will be able to carry the team when the offense has an off day, but at the end of the day, passing must be a threat for any kind of success this year.
Lia Assimakopoulos (1)
As we saw last season, the quarterback is without a doubt the most important player in Northwestern’s success both offensively and as a whole. As Louis noted, despite the fact that Northwestern had one of the most effective defenses in the Big Ten and in the nation, the team was consistently held back by the poor play on offense — which all originated with a lack of production from the quarterbacks.
But just like last season, a quarterback battle is brewing with four notable returners and an especially significant newcomer. While Peyton Ramsey seems like the frontrunner now, nobody really knows what will happen if football does indeed take place this fall.
We’re quick to forget the incredible hype that surrounded Hunter Johnson last offseason — and there was a reason for that. Dabo Swinney saw something in him at Clemson, and we knew he had the talent to succeed at Northwestern. He still does. And maybe the Bajakian offense will be the place for that success.
For TJ Green, there was a period during that Stanford game before he got injured where it seemed like all Northwestern fans were rallied behind him. Maybe he will get his time to shine this season.
Maybe it will be Ramsey in the end, and he will swoop in and save Northwestern’s offense, leading his team to a bowl game or even a Big Ten championship again.
It’s hard to know who it will be, but whoever it is, they have some serious work cut out for them and will be the most important player on this year’s roster.