Quick 2019 Recap:
To put it bluntly, 2019 was a disaster for Northwestern. Coming off a Big Ten West Championship in 2018, expectations were high for Pat Fitzgerald and company. But the Wildcats finished 3-9, including just one win in conference play.
The Wildcat offense was nothing short of atrocious last season. They averaged just 17.3 points per game, while ranking 123rd nationally in S&P+ rankings. However, they allowed just 23.6 points per game. So, it is not hard to figure out what held the Wildcats back in 2019.
Offensive Player To Watch: QB Peyton Ramsey
When Peyton Ramsey announced he was transferring from Indiana Penn State fans far and wide let out a sigh of relief. During his career in Bloomington, Ramsey was an absolute thorn in the side of the Nittany Lions. Well... despite his transfer Penn State gets to face him yet again as he chose to transfer to Northwestern.
In his career against Penn State, Ramsey is 65/94 for 685 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He has also rushed for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his three match-ups against Brent Pry’s defense. While Ramsey will have to battle the returning Hunter Johnson for the starting job, Johnson is not very good so look for Ramsey to be the guy in Evanston.
Regardless of who the quarterback is the question will be who steps up at the skilled positions? That remains a major mystery for the Wildcats. Although, they do return four starters on their offensive line which should make Ramsey smile.
Defensive Player To Watch: LB Paddy Fisher
Dating back to Fitzgerald’s time as a player in Evanston, Northwestern always seems to have a defensive player that has seemingly been in college forever. The most recent example of this has become linebacker Paddy Fisher.
Through the first three seasons of his college career Fisher has 315 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, 9 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions. This includes a pair of 100+ tackle seasons, being named a Freshman All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2017, and a third-team All-American in 2018. Fisher is one of the best defensive players Kirk Ciarrocca will have to game plan against all season.
Major Changes For 2020: After having one of the worst offenses in all of college football in 2019, the Wildcats have made a change at offensive coordinator. Mike Bajakian was hired by Fitzgerald to attempt and turn the Wildcat offense around in 2020. Bajakian had spent the 2019 season as the offensive coordinator at Boston College.
What kind of impact will Bajakian have on Northwestern’s offense? We will have to wait and see. But it’s hard to imagine the offense will not improve, if for no other reason, because they were so porous offensively in 2019.
Penn State Wins If: As long as Penn State takes care of the ball and plays a clean game, this is one they should win. The Nittany Lions have more talent and speed than the Wildcats do. In the end, talent wins out.
Northwestern Wins If: Penn State has a rough day. A Pat Fitzgerald led team should never be taken lightly. That said, Penn State is head and shoulders above Northwestern in terms of talent. Unless there is a barrage of mistakes by the Nittany Lions, they should cruise past the Wildcats.