Commentary: Five Reasons Why You Should Be Excited About Wildcat Football in 2007
by Jonathan Hodges

With Camp Kenosha almost ready to begin, it's time to get excited for Northwestern football in 2007.  In case you haven't been paying attention (or if you are still distraught about the 2006 campaign), here are some reasons to be excited when September 1 rolls around:

1. The Wildcat defense may have the most talent since Barnett left Evanston: NU comes into this season with a proven secondary with McManis (who had a great freshman campaign last year and should only get better), Battle (who played well last year and had a great spring) at the corners and Smith (now one of the most proven leaders on defense) and McPherson/Phillips (who both have had valuable experience) at safety.  And don't forget about those waiting in the wings - especially the incoming freshman who may be able to make an immediate impact (see McManis last year).  The defensive line boasts one of the strongest units talent-wise in some time.  Wooton, Gill, Hahn, Ngene, Koehn, and Bryant have all had a good bit of playing time and look to provide a strong rotation.  And all signs point to these guys coming together to help get things done up front.  Finally, the linebackers are not as experienced as in recent years but still have Kadela, Simpson, and Dinard who saw plenty of time on the field last year backed up by a lot of young, talented players like Kwateng, Arrington, Davie, and Jeske.  As an entire defensive unit, the pieces are all there and with the significant improvement of last year it appears as though signs are pointing to a strong defense in 2007.  I don't think that Fitz would have it any other way.

2. Northwestern's offense looks to once again become formidable: After the quarterback issues plaguing Northwestern in 2006, Bacher has come out as the top dog and has backed that up with on the field performance in the last 4 games of last season.  There is every reason to be excited about Bacher going into this new season as he has the pedigree to be a great QB, and this season he will be able to start (hopefully) without injury to get things off to the right start in camp (last year he got very little practice time in prior to being thrown into the fire, relative to his teammates).  Then you've got Sutton (backed up by Roberson and Conteh plus any freshmen who make it onto the 2-deep), who provides a definite rushing threat that will hopefully be taken full advantage of - plus with something of a passing game threat there should be plenty of running lanes open.  Speaking of the passing game, NU comes out with a very talented WR squad - which is as of yet unproven, but has the potential to become one of the tops in recent years.  Brewer has obvious talent and has moved over from QB, Lane and Peterman have proven their worth over the course of the past 2 seasons and it's their time to take over, Thompson provides a deep threat (when healthy - which he will hopefully be starting off 2007), Ward and Jones provide some experience, and then there are the younger talents like Fisher, Frymire, and Stewart who all look to contribute right away.  The "superback" also has some key contributors like Woodsum and Mitchell who are slowly becoming a larger component of the offense.  The only real question on the offense is the line, which is not that deep but still returns key players Rees, Belding, and Thiry who all have significant experience.  The remainder of the line has the talent and will hopefully prove that on the field.

3. Special teams will be led by Demos: One of the most highly ranked kicking recruits taken by NU in recent times, the expectations are high.  He redshirted last year as many fans were chomping at the bit to get him on the field - especially when he would hit 50-60 yard field goals in warm ups.  The talent is there - he has the leg and he has the accuracy.  Villareal provides some backup, although he has little experience (he's the only returning kicker who has kicked in a college game before).  Daley will take over on punting, also lacking any experience (in fact nobody on the squad going into 2007 has ever taken a punt in college).  Part of the reason to be excited is the step forward the coverage units took in 2006 - allowing no returns for TDs except for one blocked punt (hopefully 'Cats fans won't have to hold their breath every time NU punts or kicks off).  Also, Fitz is committed to putting the best players on the field and that looks to yield positive results for Northwestern.

4. Fitz is coming into his own: After being thrown into the fire after 6 weeks on the job last year due to Coach Walker's passing, Fitz has finally had a full year on the job and has had a chance to bring in a recruiting class all of his own.  In respect of Coach Walker, Fitz spent most of last year avoiding controversy and keeping his coaching staff in place, meanwhile the team was still "Coach Walker's" team.  This year he finally has the chance to step out of the shadow and make this HIS team and put his mark on the team and the program.  All Wildcat fans know he has the intensity, drive, and talent to make NU a great program and now he can really put that into motion.  Plus he has gained valuable experience that will help him accomplish the goal.

5. A favorable schedule: Northwestern plays 7 home games (the most in recent NU history) in 2007, for one thing.  For the nonconference schedule, NU faces I-AA Northeastern, Nevada, Duke, and Eastern Michigan (neutral site in Detroit).  Out of those games, the only real challenge should be when Nevada visits Evanston.  For the Big Ten schedule, NU does not face Wisconsin or Penn State, both of whom are arguably in contention for the Big Ten title this year.  The other conference front-runner, Michigan, NU faces at home relatively early in the season (second week of Big Ten play).  The opening game at OSU will be a challenge - but with the game early in the year there is a chance to steal a game.  The Wildcats will face tough but winnable games against the likes of Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois.  NU needs 6 wins to get to a bowl - and that looks like the minimum number of games they should win this year, with 7 or 8 being very likely.  A bowl trip is definitely something to be excited about.

I'm looking forward to this college football season with a good amount of expectations for this Wildcat football squad.  There is a lot to still be proven on the field, but the pieces are all there to be put in place.  Game day atmosphere for college football - especially at Ryan Field - is something that cannot be beat, and I can't wait for it.


e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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