Pat Fitzgerald’s team has won 27 games over the past three seasons but his Wildcats haven’t been able to make an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game. Once again, division foes Iowa and Wisconsin will field strong teams and offer Northwestern tough competition. Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson (6’4, 225) has started every game over the last three seasons and is on the watchlist for the Maxwell Award. The biggest key for Thorson will be how he recovers from a serious injury suffered in the 2017 Music City Bowl. With the departure of Justin Jackson, sophomore running back Jeremy Larkin (5’10, 194) will take over the duties of carrying the rock. On defense, the Wildcats have playmakers at every level. Senior cornerback Montre Hartage leads the charge on the back end, junior defensive end Joe Gaziano (6’4, 280) sets the edge and sophomore linebacker Paddy Fisher (6’4, 245) mans the second level of the defense.
Troy’s player to watch
24 Montre Hartage 6’0 190 CB-Senior
Hartage has started 26 straight games at cornerback and has worked himself into somewhat of a shutdown corner. The senior has eight career interceptions and will enter 2018 as the best defensive back on the roster. The Wildcats return three potential All-Conference players in its front seven, which should alleviate some of the responsibilities on the back end for Hartage. Look for the cornerback to have another strong season, if opposing quarterbacks choose to throw his way.
Game of the season
October 6th at Michigan State
Northwestern has defeated the Spartans in consecutive years. Last year’s contest was a game to remember, as the Wildcats bested the Spartans in a triple overtime 39-31 thriller in Evanston. This year, the Wildcats will have to travel to East Lansing to face a Michigan State team that returns a number of starters. If the Wildcats want to put the Big Ten on notice as a contender in the West division, a win against the Spartans will go a long way.
DraftNasty’s Prospect Watch
32 Nate Hall 6’2 230 LB-Senior
Hall throws his body around and reacts quickly versus blockers. Perhaps more importantly, he can react instinctively versus the passing game. The weakness for him revolves around his man-to-man coverage skill. His pursuit angles can be hit-or-miss in pursuit. With all of that said, his ability to rush the passer and make plays in zone coverage provides a unique combination for the Wildcats. If he can drop his pad level with more consistency, look for Hall to take the next step as a prospect.
Northwestern will start the season 4-0 but will stumble across the finish line, according to Draftnasty’s Troy Jefferson. The Wildcats will lose on the road against Michigan State and Iowa and at home against Wisconsin and Notre Dame.