2017 Northwestern Football Season Preview and Predictions



As we told the “bread and butter” of Northwestern football, running back Justin Jackson, the 2016 season was “the best of times” and “the worst of times,” offensively. Jackson responded by referencing Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities instantaneously. It was refreshing respite from all the “we just got to get better everyday” and “I just want to do what’s best for the team” that you hear ad nauseam at Media Days.

Yes, often times a Northwestern football player interview is more compelling that the audio you get from most other teams.


Last fall, NU had an all-or-nothing offense for the last three quarters of the season. In the opening quarter of the year, it was a nothing-or-next-to-nothing offense. In 2017, they’ll need to be more consistent if they are to vastly improve upon last year’s 7-6 finish. That looks very likely, as that side of the ball is really coming together. Most prognosticators have very high hopes for Northwestern football in 2017.



Quarterback Clayton Thorson broke the school single season record for passing TDs. Amazing when you remember just how many Northwestern football fans were calling for his benching early last season. By the time this season is over, he will have many more school records. He also might leave early for the NFL, given how his draft stock seems to be increasing in price. Yes, he really is a bonafide NFL prospects, go here for more on that.  


Matt Alviti will be the backup in his final season while redshirt freshman Aidan Smith will be the third option.


the Wildcats only lose two starters on offense (Carr and RT Eric Olson) and just two more from the second team offense. Thus, there is tremendous reason for optimism, as the O-Line will be more experienced and likely more cohesive this season. Overall though, the offensive line is probably the position of most concern on this Wildcats team.

Garrett Dickerson, the leading superback, has some NFL Draft stock. Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald said that the pro scouts have been out to see him, and that he has a future as a tight end (the super back position is a hybrid of tight end and full back).


Coming off a MVP performance in the Pinstripe Bowl, Jackson’s confidence is sky high. As Fitzgerald pointed out at Media Day, if Jackson has a typical season, he will end up second on the B1G all time rushing list sandwiched between two Heisman winners, one of which won the award twice; yet no one gives the kid any Heisman hype.

Here’s our exclusive with Justin Jackson from Media Day, (tune in to the part around the 6-7 min mark, some good stuff there about the facilities, the beautiful backdrop that surrounds the practice field and what that means to recruiting).

RB will be the deepest position group on the team with John Moten IV expected to see a significant role, and Auston Anderson, the greatest Northwestern football player soundbite ever in history, backing him up. Jeremy Larkin and Jesse Brown could see time too.


A year ago, no one was talking about Austin Carr, and all he did was rewrite the Northwestern football record book for receivers and become a Biletnikoff award finalist. Those are some huge shoes to fill, obviously. Among returnees, Flynn Nagel can boast of the most experience and production. Can he be the go-to-guy?

“Obviously, I would love that, it would be awesome for me, but time will tell when the season rolls around,” Nagel responded when we brought up the idea. “If that is the role I can obtain and fulfill, then I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Deep threat Solomon Vault will also be key.


tyler lancaster


The Cats only lose two starters on the defensive side of the ball, and just two from the second unit. However, end Ifeadi Odenigbo is a big loss, both in the pass rush department on the field and in the interesting soundbite department off the field.

The two deep at end this season will be comprised of Joe Gaziano, Xavier Washington, Mark Gooden and Trent Goens. It’s the tackles however, who will be the strength of the front seven in Jordan Thompson and Tyler Lancaster. Both are disruptive, with potential for major breakout seasons.

Lancaster is simply one of the strongest men in college football. He’s entering his third year as a starter for the Wildcats, anchoring a group that’s considered to be a major strength in the team. He can deadlift 740 pounds, and also possesses a broad jump of 9’4” and a 27-inch vertical. Remember he does all this at 310 pounds!

However, the specific feat of strength most associated with Tyler Lancaster is the 37 bench press reps he did of 225. It’s an accomplishment described by teammate Godwin Igwebuike as “scary.” Here’s a link to more on Lancaster.



It really is a bummer Anthony Walker declared early for the draft, because

a.) he wasn’t picked until very very late in the draft and

b.) his return would have helped to make a very solid defense reach a level among the elite. As it stands, just one starter returns to the unit, but he’s a good one in Nate Hall. Middle linebacker Nathan Fox is a guy who has earned a lot of experience early on in his career and should be a first-teamer in 2017.


Godwin Igwebuike tested the NFL waters, but decided to return for his senior season. Fitzgerald said at Media Day that he could be one of the best defenders to ever play for him.

The secondary is the unquestioned strength of the defense, as it’s loaded with talent and experience. Kyle Queiro is solid at least and potentially all-conference level stellar at most, while Montre Hartage is the leading returner in interceptions.

pat fitzgerald northwestern football

What the so-called experts say: Athlon, Lindy’s and Street & Smith’s all see the Wildcats as legitimate contenders to be in Indianapolis come the first week of December. Lindy’s predicts Northwestern football to finish second in the B1G West, and ranks them 21st nationally. For the “our call” summation statement they write “Pat Fitzgerald has solidified his program to such an extent that winning the division is a distinct possibility.” Go here for more on that.

Fitzgerald also had the perfect response to some pundits picking Northwestern football to finish second in the division. Read that here.

pat fitzgerald

Final Analysis, Prospectus-

We’re seeing a 3-0 non-conference and a 6-3 league season, so 9-3 overall. That sounds like a Holiday Bowl or Citrus Bowl kind of season.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV

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