Buy the Northwestern Wildcats
– Head coach Pat Fitzgerald looks to build on three straight winning seasons with a host of experience back in Evanston. Fitzgerald, who has passed on other jobs, clearly bleeds purple and has the tools to make 2011 a very special season. The Wildcats obviously don’t have the resources of most big time programs around the country, and with their high academic standards it’s virtually impossible to churn out a true Big Ten title contender on a yearly basis. But every so often we’ve seen this is a program pop for a big campaign and I project that type of success here thanks to a senior class with as many as 14 starters.
Obviously, much will hinge on the play of stalwart quarterback Dan Persa who’s back after rupturing his Achilles late last year. The fifth year senior was fantastic last season in completing over 73% of his passes with just four interceptions. In addition, Persa ran for over 500 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s the leader of this team and played a huge part in the team’s overall gains during the offseason. Joining Persa is four starters along the offensive line – a unit that boasts 137 combined starts.
The biggest concern moving forward is the defense, especially with what occurred down the stretch in 2010. The Wildcats allowed 163 points and over 1,600 yards in their final three games. Also concerning were the sparse number of forced turnovers with only eight in eight league games. Persa did however miss all three of the aforementioned games which certainly took away from the ball control possibilities of the offense. With his return and the extra motivation to atone for last year’s meltdown, I expect to see those faults corrected.
Northwestern’s schedule is very manageable with virtually every game on the docket providing a legitimate opportunity for victory. The toughest spot looks to be an early November trip to Lincoln to face Nebraska but outside of that, this is a group that can capitalize on what I project to be a down season for the Big Ten.