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Spring Snapshot 2012: Northwestern Wildcats

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Just.

Northwestern.

Don't get all high and mighty about beating the Wildcats. They've managed to scare the crap out of Penn State for a few years now. But just as the Nittany Lions face glaring gaps in their depth chart, Northwestern has some big shoes to fill before the fall. It will start this spring. So here we go, with the No. 2 team on Penn State's Big Ten schedule: The Northwestern WIldcats.

Where they call home: Evanston, IL

Endless running begins/ends: (started) March 3 / (spring game) April 14

If they suck, this guy gets fired: Pat Fitzgerald

The lowdown...

Northwestern was bad. Like, really bad, for a long time. But in the mid-1990s things made a quick and flashy turnaround with the Wildcats' run to the Rose Bowl in 1995, and another conference co-championship the following season. Since then, it's been generally up and down, as a few bowl bids have been sprinkled over some rather bad football. Northwestern has been the team no one should take lightly, because either you're going to blow them away, or they'll upset you in the most painful fashion imaginable. Under "Fitz" things have leveled off and bowl games are expected. He's a fantastic head coach for the program which he's called home since his days as a star linebacker for the Purple. He's got a tough task ahead this season, losing some huge playmakers on both sides of the ball. But if he's up for the challenge, as he always seems to be, things shouldn't fall too far off the cliff this year.

More specifics below the fold...

More 2012 Spring Snapshots
Ohio Bobcats - 3.12.12
Virginia Cavaliers - 3.13.12
Navy Midshipmen - 3.14.12
Temple Owls - 3.15.12
Illinois Fighting Illini - 3.19.12
Northwestern Wildcats - 3.20.12
Iowa Hawkeyes - 3.21.12
Ohio St. Buckeyes - 3.22.12
Purdue Boilermakers - 3.26.12
Nebraska Cornhuskers - 3.27.12
Indiana Hoosiers - 3.28.12
Wisconsin Badgers - 3.29.12

What they return...

It's scary. Northwestern doesn't actually return much of anyone. But we'll try to find some. True frosh Brandon Vitabile was stuck in at center last season, played admirably, and should offer the Wildcats some stability on the inside for years to come. Will it be great this year? Nah. But he's good and young in a critical spot.

Running back Mike Trumpy isn't going to win the Doak Walker trophy this year... or ever. But he's a decent back when healthy. The problem is that he's never really been healthy, and has been forced to share carries with the rest of the group. If he can emerge this spring and really take over the running back position, it could offer Northwestern a solid option on the ground. That's something this team hasn't had in a long time.

What they lost...

This list is too long for this preview. But to name a few:

QB Dan Persa

OL Al Netter

OL Ben Burkett

WR Jeremy Ebert

CB Jordan Mabin

S Brian Peters

The defense has not been exactly stout, but losing experienced guys like Mabin and Peters always hurts. The real pain comes on offense, where Persa's backup, Kain Colter, was used more as a wide receiver than a quarterback last year. Of course, he played well against Penn State, but that was mostly running the spread option. The offensive line will miss the two seniors Netter and Burkett, and struggle to find suitable replacements.

Purple Stylin'...

Expect more of a spread option offense to reign once again in Evanston. If Colter can improve his passing even a little, it'll make the Northwestern offense dangerous, and possibly mitigate some of the losses on the line. The defense has always needed improvement, but defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz knows what he's doing. It takes time to make a defense formidable at a place like Northwestern. They'll take just plain "decent" for now.

See you tomorrow for Spring Snapshot 2012: Iowa Hawkeyes.

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