2019 Northwestern Wildcats Team Preview

Averaging nine wins over the past four seasons, Northwestern is one of the quietest consistently relevant teams in the nation. Word out of Evanston says that this team is different. With a few big unproven names, this feels like the Northwestern team with the highest potential variance in a while. The schedule is tough, but back-to-back division crowns feels possible.

Offense

Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson joins to take over the offense. Johnson is a former five-star QB that Trevor Lawrence beat out for the job last year, and Johnson still has three years of eligibility left so he is a guy Northwestern can build around for the future. Deep threats Kyric McGowan (17.7 YPC) and JJ Jefferson (18.1) are back in the receiving corps along with efficient senior Bennett Skowronek.

Isaiah Bowser and John Moten (combined nine touchdowns, over 1,000 yards, 4.4 yards per touch) return in the run game, so as long as Johnson holds up his end of the bargain there is a ton of talent around him. The line does lose three starters but returns all-conference tackle Rashwan Slater. I think this offense will be about on par with last year’s group, but the five-star at the QB spot shows potential for more.

Defense

Northwestern has been good on defense for a while but last year’s group took a bit of a step back due to some injuries. The added experience those injuries brought, though, means that this team has an extremely high ceiling.

The top five tacklers return including LB Blake Gallagher (7.5 TFL), NFL draft prospect Paddy Fisher, and do it all safety JR Pace (4.5 TFL, seven PBUs, four INTs). End Samdup Miller added five TFL, and Pace’s dancing partner at safety, junior Travis Whillock, added four PBUs of his own.

Corners Cameron Ruiz and Greg Newsome return as well, and the Wildcats also should see some incredible production again from all-conference end Joe Gaziano (7.5 sacks, five TFL). I feel great about this defense.

2019 Outlook

I’m definitely generally positive on this team, and while the model has them sixth in the division, that’s largely due to a really tough schedule, not their ranking (40th). The Wildcats open the season @ Stanford, which obviously won’t affect their conference record, but also have to travel to Wisconsin and Nebraska in division play along with the unfortunate draws of Ohio State and Michigan State from the East. I think this is a bowl team but if Johnson and the defense show out they could compete for a division title.

Schedule

DateOpponentOPp. rankProj. Margin
31-Augat stanford24-6.1
14-Sepunlv10814.6
21-Sepmichigan state20-0.9
28-Sepat wisconsin27-5.5
5-Octat nebraska29-4.9
18-Octohio state5-11.9
26-Octiowa19-1.7
2-Novat indiana61-0.5
9-Novpurdue433.1
16-Novumass12421.4
23-Novminnesota382.2
30-Novat illinois812.2

Average Projected Record: 6.1 wins, 5.9 losses (4.1 wins, 4.9 losses)