Dan Persa taking over for Mike Kafka in Northwestern Air Show

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Last year, Northwestern led the Big Ten in passing offense and were among the national leaders in passing completions and plays per game. Their offense was extremely fun to watch as their QB Mike Kafka was one of the nation’s best in the total offense department, and wide receiver Zeke Markshausen was essentially the Wes Welker of college football; one of the best go-to receivers you can find on third down.

But today, Markshausen is at Chicago Bears camp and Kafka was a fifth round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles.

So this fall, it’s Dan Persa‘s turn to take the reigns.

By Paul M. Banks

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“We have as much competitive depth as we’ve ever had and that’s exciting to me,” Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

“We’re coming off a season in which we had some unfinished business and I thought our attitude was in the right spot,” he continued. The Cats won 17 games in the last two seasons, but they lost their bowl game both times. Maybe Persa will be the guy who finally ends the 61 year bowl drought.

But it won’t be just Persa (20-34, 224, 2-2 in ’09) you’ll see on the field this fall, expect 2nd-stringer Evan Watkins, a highly-rated recruit, to see some time as well.

“If the last two years of empirical data show true, yes…two years ago Mikey stepped in for C.J. at Minnesota and Danny had to go in late against Penn State and Iowa, so unfortunately we always have to be prepared to play two QBs. And both those guys will be ready,” Fitz said.

Backup Evan Watkins described Persa as “a complete QB, he does everything well, very hard working.”  And Persa is a bit “Kafkaesque.” Persa told me what he learned from Kafka these past couple years.

“The way he approached every day like it was the most important thing he had to do,” Persa stated; sounding a bit existential. I also asked Persa what he’s working on to take his game to the next level.

“Keeping depth in my drop, not stepping up so quick if I don’t have to.”

His style is the perfect fit for replacing Mike Kafka in their spread-option. He’s faster and throws the ball with more zip than Kafka, but he’s also smaller than the man he replaced. Like Kafka, the running element of his game developed first. Now he needs to develop the passing element.

“He’s as demanding on himself as anyone in the program, and I expect a smooth transition,” Fitz said of Persa.

He also said a lot about Persa on dais at Big Ten Media Day:

“Pound for pound, he’s our best conditioned athlete.  He was named our Iron Cat, which is our top point getter in the off season from strength, speed, and conditioning standpoint.  I’m pretty confident he’ll win that again.  He kind of won that going away last year…He’s the first to show and last to go.  That’s the way you want your quarterback described…He’s had two really good, I guess, mentors, so to speak, in teammates to watch in C.J. and Mike.  And now it’s his turn.

And he’s chomping at the bit.  On the field he can do everything we asked our quarterbacks to do.  Number one, he understands the tempos that we want to play at and he understands schematically what we want to do.”

It is pretty awesome that they named they’re conditioning champion the “Iron Cat.” It sounds like the name of a bad-ass cartoon or comic book character. Anyways, when I spoke with Persa at NU Media Day, he sounded like someone who’s ready to show us how all that conditioning paid off.

“In this offense, you’re going to be spreading out people and there’s going to be holes for the quarterback, so you  definitely are going to have to be able to run a little bit,” he said.

Written by Paul M. Banks, President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru

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