2022 Northwestern Wildcats Preview

by Matt Fargo

Northwestern Wildcats

2021-22 Season Record 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten West) - 3-9-0 ATS - 6-6-0 O/U

Returning Starters

Offense - 9
Defense - 5

Overview

The 2020 COVID season affected teams differently in many ways and with 19 starters back, Northwestern went for it and played as many games as they could and ended up 7-2 that included a Citrus Bowl win over Auburn. The big reason to not use it as a rebuild was because they knew 2021 would be that rebuilding year with only eight starters back and it showed with a 3-9 record, matching the 2019 team that had only 11 starters return, which are the two worst in the 16 seasons under head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Prior to that, it was eight winning campaigns in the previous 11 seasons and the Wildcats hope to get back to that this season but it will not be simple as only 14 starters are back with a roster that is ranked No. 69 in returning production to go along with a brutal schedule. Fitzgerald has pulled out some magic before when no one expected it and will need to do so again.

Offense

Neither side of the ball performed well last season, especially the offense as the Wildcats finished No. 115 in total offense and No. 125 in scoring offense and the last two-thirds of the season were a disaster as they scored 14 points or less in seven of their last eight games. The rushing offense was very below average while the passing offense was abysmal so the return of nine starters gives them a positive start if nothing else. Three quarterbacks got their shots and none performed and this season, two of those are gone and Ryan Hilinski will get a second chance after throwing for just 978 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. He is behind a very experienced offensive line that has four starters back and his top target will be Malik Washington who hauled in 44 passes for 578 yards. Leading rusher Evan Hull ran for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns and will carry the load early. 

Defense

The defense was not as bad but it was not far behind as Northwestern finished No. 102 in total defense and No. 91 in scoring defense and while the passing defense was above average, opposing teams had no reason to throw the ball as the Wildcats could not stop the run. Only five starters are back with the top guy being linebacker Bryace Gallagher who was second on the team with 90 tackles and will have to be the leader with two new starters on the outside around him. The lone starter back on the defensive line is Adetomiwa Adebawore who led the team with 4.5 sacks from the middle and he will need help with most of the other sack producers having moved on. The secondary is a question mark as the best player is gone and while three starters are back, they have hardly been tested. Northwestern had just 16 takeaways and that will have to improve to alleviate pressure.

2022 Season Outlook

While it is not exactly looking bleak, it is not looking very promising but as said before, Fitzgerald knows how to get out the best from his players, 2021 notwithstanding. His job is more than safe as he has had five teams finish ranked in the AP Poll over the last ten seasons and while this season is not expected to add to that, stranger things have occurred with this program and a quick start will be necessary. The Wildcats open in Ireland against a vastly improved Nebraska team and then they are back home for three straight against Duke, Southern Illinois and Miami Ohio. The next seven Big Ten games are against teams projected with at least six wins but at least they miss Michigan and Michigan St. from the East. The O/U win total is set at 4 and those look to be four home games, the three mentioned and Illinois being the other to close the season, so it will take some major upsets along the way. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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