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Has Pat Fitzgerald Done Everything He Can at Northwestern or Will ‘Cats Continue Their Rise?

Winning football games at Northwestern isn’t easy. But that doesn’t stop Pat Fitzgerald from consistently leading this program to bowl games. Last year, the Wildcats finally got over the hump and won a bowl game – the first in school history. Think about that…Northwestern has been playing football for over 100 years and just won their first bowl game. They are the last BCS conference team to accomplish that. It just goes to show what a truly amazing job Fitzgerald has done at a school where recruiting 4 and 5-star recruits is virtually impossible thanks to tough academic standards and an athletic department that absolutely refuses to spend enough money on athletics to compete as is necessary.

Regardless of who is coaching this program, Northwestern will never consistently contend for major bowl games. But that doesn’t mean they can’t consistently field a quality football team. Fitzgerald has done everything he can at Northwestern, but the question arises…can he get the Wildcats to an even higher level?

The Wilcats Offense

8 Starters Return from a 10-win Football Team

You have to give Fitzgerald and his staff credit for developing quarterbacks despite never recruit Top 100 talent at that position. It seems like every year you can just go ahead and pencil in the Northwestern quarterback for 2,500+ yards passing. Kain Colter returns as the Wildcats signal caller. His mix of passing and mobility can give opposing defenses fits. He’s also a decent wide receiver. Colter had a somewhat disappointing season in 2012 but don’t count him out. He can play.

The key to the Wildcats offense in 2013 won’t be the passing game. It will be the rushing of Colter and running back Venrick Mack. Mack was an all-conference back last season while pacing the Wildcats with over 1,300 yards rushing. He has good speed and size. Northwestern’s success will rest heavily on the health of Mack and Colter. The offensive line returns just two starters (Brandon Vitabile and Jack Konopka) so that is an area of concern.

The Wildcats Defense

Experienced But Not Deep

Defensive depth could be a concern for head coach Pat Fitzgerald. One thing he should feel fairly comfortable with is his starting unit. They’re not overly big or athletic. And there aren’t any big-time playmakers. But don’t be fooled…this is a quality defensive unit. Now, do we expect them to be a Top 25 defense? Perhaps for the first part of the season. But once the season wears on and depth becomes an issue, it’s not unreasonable to expect a significant drop-off.

It should come as no surprise that the strength of Northwestern’s defense is their linebacking corps. After all, Coach Fitz was an All-American linebacker back in the 1990’s at Northwestern. Both Damien Proby and Chi Chi Ariguzo were honorable mention all-conference last season and should only get better. The defensive line is led by Tyler Scott, who returns after an impressive 9-sack campaign a year ago. An area of concern on the defense is the secondary. 3 starters are back in that unit but there is no star power at this point. Big plays in the passing game will happen against this defense. You can count on that.

A Final Word on the 2013 Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern’s 2012 season was one of the best in school history. They probably won’t accomplish what they did last year, but you should definitely expect them to return to a bowl game…perhaps on New Year’s Day. If Northwestern can survive early tests against California and Syracuse, expect an 8-9 win season.

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