Caleb Friedman, Editor-In-Chief of InsideNU.com, SBN’s Northwestern blog, helped us with that as we asked him a few questions about his team that finished last year on an upswing.
Note that this conversation took place just before Northwestern landed a huge recruit in transfer QB Hunter Johnson, so I’m sure the optimism level regarding the team’s future is a tad higher now.
1. What’s your overall impression of how Northwestern’s 2017 season went?
Northwestern’s 2017 season got off to a bit of a rocky start with a close win over Nevada and a blowout loss to Duke, but the Wildcats turned it around to win 10 games, including winning the Music City Bowl. Northwestern closed the season on a nine-game winning streak, including a stretch of three straight overtime wins. For Northwestern, winning 10 games and bowl game (and finishing in the Top 25) is a big, big deal. So, while the season was a success, a loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener made it nearly impossible for NU to compete in the Big Ten West race, and that left something to be desired.
2. Will Northwestern be better or worse in 2018?
Record-wise, probably worse. Some of those close games will likely go the other way, and there’s major uncertainty at the quarterback position because Clayton Thorson tore his ACL in the bowl game last season. If Thorson can’t come back for Week 1, Northwestern has virtually no experience behind him. The program also loses its all-time leading rusher in Justin Jackson, who was a huge part of the offense. There’s still a lot of talent coming back from a top 25 team, but there are plenty of losses and question marks too.
3. What’s going to be the biggest change between last year’s Northwestern team and this one?
The biggest change will be losing Jackson. To lose a player that carried the ball over 1,100 times and rushed for over 5,400 yards will be a major adjustment for the offense. The presumptive starter, Jeremy Larkin, is promising, but Jackson was a legend at Northwestern. The offense could take on a new identity, though probably not drastically different than previously, without him.
4. Who are the big name players to watch for Northwestern this year?
Larkin would be one on offense -- he should get a lot of work at running back, and the offense has been structured around the running game in years past. On defense, Joe Gaziano will be a force at defensive end. He led the Big Ten in sacks a year ago as a sophomore and should pose problems for opposing offensive lines next season. He’s strong in run defense, but his pass rush has been increasingly refined during his time in Evanston.
5. What’s your prediction for this team’s game against Notre Dame this year?
It’s a long way out, so this is just a guess, but I’d probably be inclined to say Notre Dame will win.
For more on Northwestern sports, go have a look at InsideNU.com.