2018 Northwestern Football Season Preview, Predictions, Prospectus

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Northwestern football has won 10 games three times (2017, 2015, 2012) in the past six seasons, and if they can eclipse that mark by just one in 2018, they will set a new school record. That’s a tall order though considering how strong their schedule is this season.

It’s definitely a great year for fans to come to Ryan Field, as this is probably the greatest home slate, unquestionably so from a brand name stand point, in Northwestern football history. The schedule, along with the health of starting quarterback Clayton Thorson, have been major storylines this preseason.

northwestern football hutcheson field

The main Northwestern football story line, and we’ll cover that in detail as you progress through this posting, is the new $270,000,000 practice facility that just opened up.

Also, we talked about the upcoming Northwestern football season on WGN-CLTV “Sports Feed” with Jarrett Payton, have a watch below:

Northwestern football Preview Offense:

QB: Has Clayton Thorson recovered from the ACL injury he suffered in the Music City Bowl? Will he start the nationally televised season opener at Purdue on a Thursday night? The answer to that is, like the name of an Oasis album, “definitely maybe.” He says he’s feeling great and ready to rock and roll in week one.

If he’s not ready, then the Wildcats will turn to one of the following three QBs: T.J. Green, Aidan Smith or Andrew Marty. Green, son of former NFL signal Trent Green, has the early edge due to the fact that he has the most knowledge of the system. Even though he has thrown just pass, he still has more experience than the other two candidates.

clayton thorson

Here’s a link to more on the Cats QB situation after Thorson, both this year if he’s hurt and next year when his eligibility has expired. As for Thorson, we have also thoroughly analyzed his game in our annual report of his NFL Draft stock.

Here below is our exclusive with the three back-up QBs, done in a group format; enjoy:

WR/TE: Bennett Skowronek is the go to guy, with Flynn Nagel a very capable second option. They form a very solid, well experienced duo. Cameron Green has the NFL size and measurables, so if he takes a major step forward this season, you might be see him playing on Sundays down the line.

OL: Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald will tell that you one of the main reasons Justin Jackson became the all time leading rusher in school history was because of the OL, and not despite it, as he believes the media conveyed. Fitzgerald believes the OL have been unfairly painted with too negative a brush.

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They return four starters this season, and thus expectations will be high. Good things are expected, especially on the interior where the unit’s best players, guards Tommy Doles and J.B. Butler reside.

RB: Jeremy Larkin is the man poised to inherit the starting role from The Ball Carrier/Bread and Butter, and he brings an impressive yards per carry average to the table. Now we’ll see if he can continue averaging north of six yards per rush (or better) with a much much bigger sample size.

The Brand New Fitz Mahal, or Fitz-Carlton 

In the words of Kanye West, from a long time ago when he was a rapper/entertainer and not a professional troll, “welcome to the good life.” Here is a link to a whole lot of video and photo from the brand new Ryan Fieldhouse and Walter Athletic Center, but we must be honest that doesn’t do it justice.

You really have to be there to see it. Fitzgerald referred to the new players’ lounge, which includes an outdoor terrace overlooking the beach as their “man cave” and their locker room as “a night club” (due to the ceiling lights in the N logo).

Simply put, it’s as state of the art and top notch as anything Clemson or Alabama have, but you still get to live in Chicagoland, and not in rural South Carolina or Alabama.

The indoor practice field, inside basically a giant aircraft hangar, has a ceiling high enough for punts and kicks and a lakeside view. Its predecessor did not.

Northwestern football Preview Defense:

DL: The key here is replacing WEIGHT ROOM!!! hero and overall phenomenal team leader Tyler Lancaster, who is now pursuing his NFL dream. Tackle Jordan Thompson will now get his time to shine while end Joe Gaziano will again be the leading pass rusher. How much he can improve at this task, or not, will have a lot of consequence on how the season goes.

NU was a great run-stuffing team last season, and they are expected to again be very stingy against opposing ground attacks again this season.

LB: The team’s best player, at least according to the Big Ten Conference on Media Day, resides in this position group. Paddy Fisher was the only Wildcat named to the preseason honors short list, and unlike 90% of most preseason watch lists, it means something because only 10 players get named, in a conference with 14 teams that have 22 starters each.

He’s been labeled a mini Fitz by many, including this website, which published the “Paddy Fisher is Fitzgerald’s mini-me” story last season, AHEAD of the curve.

Asked about the Fisher comparisons, Fitzgerald responded: “I don’t think that’s fair for him. He’s a much better athlete.”

“Paddy Fisher is an absolute terrific football player. You look at his body of work from just one season, I think it speaks for itself. He’s a big man. He’s all, of course, 245 pounds. He can run, and he’s obviously very physical. He’s got a great football IQ.”

pat fitzgerald

Joining Fisher in the starting contingent is Nate Hall, one of the team’s main leadership figures and Blake Gallagher. Nathan Fox, who has plenty of starting experience, will also see a lot of minutes.

DB: Cornerback Montre Hartage night have the highest draft stock of anyone on this Northwestern football team. Fitz compared him to former Cats DB Sherrick McManis, who’s been with the Chicago Bears since 2012 and in the NFL since 2010.

“The on the practice field competitive nature, in the running work outs, the work ethic in the weight room, the leadership in the film, and Montre is Sherrick, they’re carbon copies,” said Fitzgerald. “I think Montre has a bright future this year, but he’s going to play football a long time.”

NU are looking to replace a stellar duo at safety, how well they can achieve that will have tremendous impact on how the season goes.

northwestern football tyler lancaster

Northwestern football Preseason Team Rankings: Street & Smith’s projects them to finish 5th in the Big Ten West, and headed to the Quick Lane Bowl. Athlon ranks the Cats 46th nationally, fourth in the west division, finishing 6-6, 4-5 in league and slotted to the Foster Farms Bowl.

Northwestern football Bottom Line/Expectations: This feels like a 7 win season, or thereabouts, with a third or fourth place finish in the division. Contending for double digits and/or a slot in Indianapolis come early December would definitely be over-achieving.

2018 College Football Season Previews 

#12 Notre Dame    Northern Illinois     Northwestern    Purdue    #11 Michigan State

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, is currently a regular contributor to SB Nation, WGN CLTV and Chicago Now.

Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Sound Cloud and YouTube. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to any and all of his.

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