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Mark suspension shouldn't hurt Wildcats

8/8/2014

The Northwestern Wildcats were looking forward to getting star tailback Venric Mark back after an injury-riddled 2013 -- but it looks as if the team will have to wait a few more games.

Mark, a senior, was suspended for this season's first two games after violating an unspecified team policy, the school announced Friday evening.

"I made a mistake and am prepared to deal with the consequences of that," Mark said in a news release.

The announcement is certainly a surprising one but, overall, shouldn't affect the preseason standing of the Wildcats. Northwestern's first opponent, Cal, is basically the Purdue of the Pac-12 and has widely been panned as the likely last-place finisher of the North. Northwestern's next opponent is Northern Illinois, which may be coming off a 12-2 season but lost four starters on the defensive line and has to replace dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch.

Mark would be a great boost to Northwestern's offense in those two games, but his absence shouldn't hurt the Cats all that much. Especially with Northwestern's depth.

Pat Fitzgerald has three other tailbacks who saw time last season, and senior tailback Treyvon Green took over last season with Mark on the sideline. He finished 2013 with 736 yards, eight touchdowns and 5.3 yards a carry, so he's not exactly green. Stephen Buckley and Warren Long also saw time in 2013 and can pick up the slack where needed.

"We've got solid depth at that position," Fitzgerald said during Big Ten media days. "I think we've been able to turn what's been perceived as a lack of depth in our program into a position of depth right now."

Granted, the Wildcats still lost production last season when Mark was sidelined. With Mark in 2012, Northwestern averaged 4.93 yards a carry. With Mark mostly gone in 2013, that average dipped to 4.08 yards per carry. Still, Northwestern has more experience this season -- and it's not as if they are facing Michigan State's defense those first two weeks.

No doubt Northwestern would prefer to have Mark back now. But between its depth and opponents? The Wildcats should be just fine.