2019 Northwestern Football Very Early Season Preview

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2018 was a banner, yet still very strange season for Northwestern football. It saw the first winless non-conference regular season since 1992, Gary Barnett’s very first season in Evanston. However, it also included a very nice bowl win over the Pac 12 runner-up/winner of the league’s south division.

It was an autumn that brought Pat Fitzgerald’s worst loss (Akron) since his very first home game in charge (New Hampshire, 2006) and his first Big Ten Coach of the Year award, on strength of a 8-1 league record. At various points during the season, Fitzgerald brought attention to his non-believers and detractors. At times, he mentioned the odds-makers, bloggers, Clayton Thorson critics and media who he felt didn’t give the offensive line as much positive publicity as he felt they deserved.

In the end, Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern football had the last laugh on anybody who criticized/doubted or bet against them. You were much better off playing the real pokies online (or as we call them here “the slots”) than you were betting on NU when they were favored in 2018, but the end result (whether they covered the spread or not) was Fitzgerald’s fifth 9-win season. The program had four 9-win seasons in its 114 years of existence before Fitz became head coach in 2006.

In the past 11 years, Northwestern football has seen nine bowl game appearances. In 2018, they won the Big Ten West division for the first time, and they did it by a full three games. None of the betting lines, not even at best south african casinos, saw that one coming. The Wildcats defied oddsmakers all season long, and perhaps no team relished in the underdog role as much as they did. 

They also won three straight bowl games for the first time in school history, and during the post-game celebration, Fitzgerald squashed the story that was always an actual non-story (the Green Bay Packers rumors) with authority. “You look back a handful of years ago, we were able to get that monkey off our back, getting the first bowl win,” said Fitzgerald. “Now it’s become a consistent theme of our program, becoming champions.”

2019 Key Returnees: Six starters return on offense: WRs Ben Skowronek and Kyric McGowan, RB Isaiah Bowser, OL Rashawn Slater and Jared Thomas, SUPERBACK Cameron Green

Seven come back on defense: DE Joe Gaziano, Safeties Jared McGee and J.R. Pace, LBs Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher, DL Sam Miller and Fred Wyatt, CB Trae Wiliams

Key Absentees: Thorson, WR Flynn Nagel, OL Tommy Doles and J.B. Butler, DT Jordan Thompson, CB Montre Hartage, S Jared McGee and LB Nate Hall

2019 Northwestern football preview OFFENSE

QB- Next year’s presumed starting quarterback is Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, a former five-star recruit.

He’s arguably the biggest name, or at least the highest rated recruit in school history. After seeing Trevor Lawrence put on the show that he did last night, you can see why Johnson, and Kelly Bryant for that matter, went elsewhere. T.J. Green returns to be the expected QB2

WR/TE- Riley Lees should step in to the starting line-up, of a group that should maintain the consistency and production of a position group that always ends up at the end of the year better than you thought they were going to be in the preseason. It’s always “a no name receiving corps” in August, but always solid, and sometimes spectacular, in December.

OL- Only two of the five starters return, so once again this will be a retooling. They will be under the microscope again early, as it look them until mid-season to figure out to run block effectively.

RB/SB- It’s the Isaiah Bowser show in 2019, as he’ll be the focal point of the offense. Coming off a promising freshman campaign, he’ll have a great chance to build a superlative career in Evanston. Cam Green returns to provide Johnson with another veteran weapon.

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Northwestern football season preview DEFENSE

DL- Thompson, definitely the league’s most underrated lineman and someone who was a whole lot better than people realized, will be missed. Having Gaziano back for another year though is a major game-changer. This is a position with depth and talent, so look for plenty of rotations next season.

LB- Fisher is set to have another big season and potentially leave school with one year of eligibility left on the table. His name is popping up wherever you see 2020 NFL Mock Drafts, which isn’t too often, but still- he has all the makings of a first round prospect. Having the dependable Blake Gallagher playing next to him again next fall will be big.

The venerable Hall will certainly be missed.

paddy fisher

DB- Given how much Fitzgerald has compared Hartage to the Chicago Bears’ Sherrick McMannis, you can expect the outgoing NU CB to have a solid pro career, on par with that of the Wildcats corner who left several years ago. Half the starting secondary is gone while the other returns.

Bottom Line: Northwestern football has made an appearance in several outlets’ way too early top 25 rankings, usually appearing somewhere from about #19-#23. That sounds about right. Fitz raised the bar after the Big Ten title game was concluded. He wants to make trips to Indianapolis “the new normal.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation. 

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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