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2022 Northwestern football position preview: Offensive line

It’s Peter Skoronski’s world and we’re all just living in it.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Michigan State at Northwestern Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Returning starters: Peter Skoronski (Jr.), Josh Priebe (Jr.), Ben Wrather (Jr.), Charlie Schmidt (Sr.), Ethan Wiederkehr (Gr.)

Key losses: Sam Gerak (Graduation)

Returners: Conrad Rowley (Sr.), Dom D’Antonio (Jr.), Caleb Tiernan (So.), Jackson Carsello (So.), Braeden Edwards (So..), Zachary Franks (Jr.), Max Skidmore (Jr.), Josh Thompson (So.), Luka Trifunovic (Jr.)

Newcomers: Vincent Picozzi (Grad transfer, Colorado State), Nick Herzog (Fy.), Deuce McGuire (Fy.)

With four of Northwestern’s 2021 starters set to return, one might get the impression this unit projects as Pat Fitzgerald’s most dependable one. That’s not the case. Outside of Peter Skoronski’s All-Big Ten appearance, the offensive line’s performance did not meet expectations in 2021.

As was the case for every offensive position group, inconsistencies at quarterback definitely didn’t help. Neither did injuries to Josh Priebe, Conrad Rowley and Ben Wrather, which crippled the team’s interior line depth midway through the year. But with all of those players returning and the unit teeming with upperclassmen from top to bottom, a lack of experience is no longer a sufficient excuse.

Skoronski, who multiple outlets have already selected as a preseason All-American and projected first-round draft pick, will almost certainly headline the group. At the other tackle spot, Ethan Wiederkehr will start for the third consecutive season. Priebe and Charlie Schmidt will also return as starters at left guard and center, respectively. Rowley is slated to take the final starting spot, though Vincent Picozzi and Wrather will likely earn ample snaps as versatile depth pieces.

Key Player:

Charlie Schmidt

Replacing Sam Gerak at center might be the tallest task facing this group. While Northwestern’s line was never terrific during his three years as a starter, he brought solid run-blocking and durability to teams that often desperately needed them. Schmidt will need to adopt those qualities as the line’s anchor for the Wildcats to cut down on at least some of their offensive woes.

Schmidt started every game in 2021, albeit only two of those at center. But it is worth noting that Gerak made the same transition from right guard to center that Schmidt is set to make in 2022. Regardless, adjusting to a new starting center after Gerak’s two years anchoring the line isn’t easy. Schmidt’s response to that challenge could make or break the ‘Cats.

Big Question:

Can the offensive line finally make the rushing attack more reliable?

Given Northwestern’s depth in the backfield compared to its quarterback room last year, its running game should have been its most dependable source of offense. Yet, the offensive line’s struggles generating an initial push off the snap hindered Evan Hull and Andrew Clair all year long.

Of all 130 Division I teams in 2021, Northwestern ranked 121st in line yards per carry, a Football Outsiders metric that gives offensive lines full credit for zero-to-three yard runs and half-credit for four-to-eight yard runs. When compared with NU’s actual yards per carry mark, which ranked 30 spots higher, the standard demonstrates that Hull and Clair made the line appear much better than it performed.

With that duo set to return and Cam Porter now healthy, the talent is there for the backfield to buoy what appears to be an inconsistent passing attack. Game script will surely be a factor in that area, but NU’s new interior lineman core will play an even bigger role in letting the running backs shine.

Depth Chart

Projected 2022 O-Line Depth Chart

Position First String Second String Third String
Position First String Second String Third String
LT Peter Skoronski
LG Josh Priebe Dom D'Antonio Jackson Carsello
OC Charlie Schmidt Ben Wrather
RG Conrad Rowley Vincent Picozzi
RT Ethan Widerkehr Caleb Tiernan