By Paul M. Banks
With the college football season set to kick off on Saturday, time to forecast how I think Northwestern will finish. But before that, I’ll profile the team’s biggest strength: the DBs. Very few secondaries in the nation return four starters, who each earned postseason recognition in 2008. Northwestern has both its cornerbacks (Sherrick McManis and Jordan Mabin) and safeties (Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith) returning in 2009, along with several key reserves.
McMannis, Phillips, and Smith each earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors while Mabin was tabbed a Freshman All-American by several outlets. In 2008, Northwestern’s secondary helped the Wildcats rank 25th in the nation for pass efficiency defense with a 111.8 rating. ESPN.com ranked NU’s secondary as the second-best in conference.
“I think we’re finally as a program at the level where we can consistently compete year and year out for the Big Ten championship. This year we have a lot of good experience on defense and a lot of young athletic guys on offense who can play,” said Phillips said Phillips before continuing. “We have three guys who have been starting for three years or more, and then Mabin, who’s been starting for a whole year last year, and it’s really helped us to be able to build that trust together to be able to play as one.”
McMannis also discussed the unit’s strength as a whole “I feel that we have a lot of leaders on this team, and in the secondary we’re perhaps the most experienced group on the field, we’ll use that as an advantage and help out the younger guys.”
But perhaps the most colorful aspect of the secondary is their hairstyle. Senior captain Brendan Smith sported a Mohawk at training camp last year, and plans to do so again this year…at times when his public presentation doesn’t have to be conservative. “Guys had Mohawks, but they had to get rid of them for today (Northwestern Media Day) the defense was supposed to all have them last year, but then they bailed on me, so it was just me and Brad, but I think 3 or for 4 guys have it, but I think they shaved them now,” Smith said before adding that he couldn’t sport his Mohawk for his Leadership council duties. “I’m excited. There’s not many times that a Northwestern defense gets praise or compliments, but we just go out, do our jobs and take it back to the basics. Not get ahead of ourselves, do what we do,” Smith added.
I see big lopsided wins Towson, at Syracuse, Indiana, Eastern Michigan, at Purdue, so we’ll begin with a 5-0 template.
Since there’s no Ohio State on this schedule, I’m not predicting any big lopsided losses, but I do see narrow-to-decisive losses at Michigan State, at Iowa (why are they playing there in consecutive years? Shouldn’t that one be at home this season?), an upset to Miami of Ohio (remember 1995?) which makes them now 5-3.
I do forecast the Wildcats to pull of an upset at home over Penn State on Halloween, and also take the remaining three games on the schedule that are close and could easily go either way (at Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin) which gives them a final season record of 9-3. And yes, I do think this will finally be the year the Bowl game victory drought ends. I think they’ll get passed over for a better bowl that they deserve to be in (like last year with the Outback choosing Iowa over them.
And being able to drop down will make them able to get past some overrated SEC team. Thus ends the “wait till next year” attitude in Evanston as the Cats will get their first bowl since 1949.
By the way, 9-3 is where they finished the regular season last year. I predicted them to be 8-4 in August of ’08.Follow paulmbanks