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Friday, July 31, 2009
Preseason predictions: Northwestern

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten predictions series wraps up with the Northwestern Wildcats.

1. Jeravin Matthews becomes the answer at running back -- One of only two true freshmen to see the field last fall, Matthews transitioned from wide receiver to running back and performed well this spring. With top-end speed and good hands, he fits what Northwestern wants in a running back for the spread offense. The Wildcats figure to audition several backs early on, but Matthews will emerge as the best of the bunch.

2. The passing game starts slow -- Mike Kafka has always been a run-first quarterback, and he'll stay that way early on. Northwestern will be breaking in a new receiving corps, and while Kafka worked on his passing throughout the offseason, it will take time for things to click. The Wildcats can win their first three games without many heroics from Kafka, but they'll need a receiver or two to emerge by the time Big Ten play rolls around.

3. Northwestern reaches consecutive bowl games for just the second time in team history -- The Wildcats have a lot of holes to fill on offense, but they return a very solid defense and play a very favorable schedule that doesn't include Ohio State. If the defense doesn't take a step back, Northwestern should notch at least six wins and as many as nine, which would match last year's victories total. That means another bowl appearance for Pat Fitzgerald's team.