To kick off a summer of football at Inside NU, we are counting down Northwestern’s Top 10 Most Important Players in 2021. We’ve put our heads together as a staff, used the unruly power of democracy and created a list that has already caused plenty of disagreement.
The list’s criteria simply consisted of players we believe to be the most important to Northwestern football in 2021. However, we know that is up for interpretation. For some, it could mean the value of one player over his backup. It could mean players in crucial roles. It could also mean players who have underperformed and need to step up.
Only one thing is known: no two lists from our staff members are the same. That’s why for each player, we’ll have at least one member break down their placement for the aforementioned player.
Daniel Olinger (4)
A bit of an obvious one, right?
On a team that lacks experience, Bergin returns to start for his fourth-consecutive year at the position that has become synonymous with Northwestern football during the Pat Fitzgerald era, so naturally he’s going to be one of the most important cogs in the machine.
As the Editor-in-Chief but more importantly official super nerd of this website, ranking a linebacker as fourth on should tell you how highly I think of Bergin. In the modern world of football that focuses first and foremost on stopping spread passing attacks, the linebacker position just has less inherent value than defensive linemen and the secondary. The D-Line can pressure the guy throwing the pass, while the secondary is responsible for disrupting whoever the floating pigskin is intended to reach. Linebackers do both of those things regularly, but the lack of a defined role leaves the non-elite athletes of the position group in a “jack or all trades, master of none” type of situation.
But Bergin has to be ranked this high simply because no one outside of the Northwestern football program really knows what to expect from all these new faces in the starting lineup. At least at almost every other group (save for the wide receivers), evidence can be conjured up to believe in the new players. Hilinski proved in his starting season at South Carolina that he can be a Power Five level quarterback. Cam Porter showed enough flashes to inspire confidence in many. The offensive line returns its best players and pairs high caliber recruits with a fantastic position coach in Kurt Anderson. The defensive line has enough familiar names and stout bodies to not inspire fear. Same goes for the secondary, where names like Coco Azema, AJ Hampton, Rod Heard and Cameron Mitchell have gotten the occasional rep and have proven trustworthy.
For the linebackers, what can really be said for the guys stepping in outside of Bergin? They’re basically all greenhorns to starting and rotational spots due to NU having a top tier unit at the position for the past three years with the same three players. Sure, names such as Peter McIntyre, Bryce Gallagher, Mac Uihlein, Khalid Jones and Jaylen Rivers offer potential, but for this upcoming season alone, Bergin is probably the only one you trust matched up with a slot receiver on a third down or dropping into a complex zone when facing a good quarterback.
It’s cliche to say that a 5-foot-11, former walk-on is the perfect leader for a team with the identity and culture that Northwestern has, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Number 28 is a critical piece toward the ‘Cats maintaining their momentum from last year’s dream season here in 2021.
Jackson Gordwin - No ranking because he just joined the site this week :)
If you take a look at the whole Northwestern football team, there is arguably no player that has more to prove than fifth year linebacker Chris Bergin, and he knows this. As a matter of fact, Bergin has carried a giant chip on his shoulder for every game of his 46 appearances in a Wildcat uniform. Originally recruited as a preferred walk-on, he has quickly ascended the ranks and made himself a valuable member of the Northwestern linebacking core.
Even though he is a very pivotal piece to the Wildcat defense, it is no secret that he is an undersized linebacker at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds. As cliche as this might sound, what he lacks in size and strength he makes up for with heart. When watching the Northwestern squad go to battle, there has been no player that has displayed more energy and effort than Bergin. Flying sideline to sideline to seal edges and to disrupt passing lanes, he solidified himself as a crucial member of the Irish Law Firm, the nickname given to the hard-hitting Northwestern linebacking trio comprised of Bergin, Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher. Fisher and Gallagher have since joined the professional ranks after signing with NFL teams in the spring, leaving Bergin to act as a bridge between the Irish Law Firm days and the new, unproven era of head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s defense.
Fitzgerald’s defense did not only lose experienced players at the linebacker position, but his defense also lost experience from the play calling perspective as longtime defensive coordinator, Mike Hankwitz, retired after the Wildcats’ win against Auburn in the Citrus Bowl. With inexperience across the board, Fitzgerald will be able to lean on his fifth year linebacker for leadership throughout the 2021 season. Bergin is undoubtedly qualified for this moment as he leads the defense in games played and tackles. Even though he has been electric and dominant throughout his tenure at Northwestern, it still feels as if he has not reached his full potential yet. This may partly be due to him playing third fiddle to Fisher and Gallagher in the past. However, since Fisher — who was a member of the All-Big Ten First Team — and Gallagher — who was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team — have departed, there is now an opportunity for Bergin to assume the role as the leader of this Northwestern linebacking group.
Although this might seem like a daunting task, Bergin is prepared. He has steadily improved his linebacking skills, even achieving his best season yet in which he was named All-Big Ten Defensive Honorable Mention. If there is any player in the Northwestern locker room that is prepared for this responsibility, it’s Bergin.
So, in the 2021 season look out for number 28, Chris Bergin, as he is set to prove that he can take a larger role on defense and still be successful without the likes of Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher. With his endless motor, unmatchable energy, and love for the game, do not be surprised if the Bergin and the Wildcat defense turn heads this year.