Hope and concern: Northwestern Wildcats
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Biggest reason for hope -- Depth in the secondary
Not long ago, Northwestern's secondary was one of the weakest units in the Big Ten. Heading into 2009, it appears to be one of the league's strongest groups. All four starters return, led by safeties Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith, who combined for 191 tackles and five interceptions last season, including Smith's game-winning return against Minnesota. The Wildcats go two and three deep at every position and boast two aggressive corners in Sherrick McManis and Jordan Mabin. The defense as a whole should be Northwestern's strength this fall, and the secondary headlines the unit.
Biggest reason for concern -- Losses at the offensive skill positions
To truly elevate its profile in the Big Ten, Northwestern must show it can survive losses of multiyear starters at key offensive positions. This season provides a major test as the Wildcats lose a three-year starter at quarterback (C.J. Bacher), a four-year starter at running back (Tyrell Sutton) and three multiyear starters at wide receiver (Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and Rasheed Ward). In the past, these losses have signaled a drop-off for a program that has reached consecutive bowl games just once before (1995-96). Northwestern needs quarterback Mike Kafka and others to step up and continue the momentum it generated last season.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State