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BIG TEN BREAKDOWN: Northwestern

COACH: Pat Fitzgerald, 99-79 entering 15th season at Northwestern and overall

2019 RECORD: 3-9, 1-8 Big Ten (Seventh, West)

OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING (7): WR Ramaud Chiaokhlao-Bowman, C Sam Gerak, WR Riley Lees, WR Kyric McGowan, LT Rashawn Slater, LG Nik Urban, RT Gunnar Vogel

DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING (9): LB Chris Bergin, LB Paddy Fisher, LB Blake Gallagher, DT Trevor Kent, DE Samdup Miller, CB Greg Newsome, S JR Pace, CB Cameron Ruiz, S Travis Whitlock

SPECIALISTS RETURNING (1): PK Charlie Kuhbander

RETURNING STATISTICAL LEADERS: Rushing, Drake Anderson 154-634; Passing, Aidan Smith 86-171-9-760-3; Receiving, Riley Lees 51-430; Tackles, Blake Gallagher 91; Interceptions, Blake Gallagher 3

KEEP AN EYE ON…

LB PADDY FISHER: The three-time all-Big Ten middle linebacker is preparing for his fourth season in the Northwestern lineup. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound native of Katy, Texas, is among a group of nine returning starters on the defensive side of the ball. Fisher already owns the school record with 10 career forced fumbles and he enters his senior season needing to add 15 tackles to his career total of 318 to move into the top 10 on Northwestern’s all-time list.  Fisher was second on the team with 89 tackles, including six for a loss, last season.

QB PEYTON RAMSEY: A graduate transfer, Northwestern’s projected starting quarterback is no stranger to the Big Ten. He started for Indiana in 2017 and 2018 before splitting time a year ago. The 6-2, 216-pound senior completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,454 yards a year ago for the Hoosiers, throwing 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. He will be working behind an offensive line which returns four starters including all-Big Ten tackle Rashawn Slater, a 6-3, 305-pound senior. The Wildcats also return their leading receiver from a year ago in Riley Les, who caught 51 balls. 

RB ISAIAH BOWSER: After leading the Wildcats in rushing in 2018, injuries limited the 6-1, 215-pound back to five games a year ago. Now healthy, he’s being counted on to help reignite a Northwestern ground game which figures to have solid depth entering the 2020 season. Drake Anderson, who led the team in rushing a year ago as a freshman, returns as does Jesse Brown, who missed eight games last season because of injuries. 

YOU NEED TO KNOW…

After an abysmal season offensively in 2019, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald brought in a new offensive coordinator to overhaul a Wildcats’ attack which finished 13th in the Big Ten with its average of 16.3 points and 14th with his average 117 passing yards per game last season. Mike Bajakian worked at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Boston College before arriving in Evanston, typically building attacks around the strengths of available talent at each stop along the way. 

THE BIG NUMBER

6

How much did Northwestern’s offense struggle in 2019? Wildcats quarterbacks threw just six touchdown passes in 2019, the fewest of any program in the power-five conferences. 

2020 SCHEDULE

Oct. 24 – Maryland

Oct. 31 – at Iowa

Nov. 7 – Nebraska

Nov. 14 – at Purdue

Nov. 21 – Wisconsin

Nov. 28 – at Michigan State

Dec. 5 – at Minnesota

Dec. 12 -- Illinois 

NUMEROLOGY

Where Northwestern ranked in the Big Ten in 2019:

Scoring offense: 16.3 (13th)

Rushing offense: 180.1 (Fifth)

Passing offense: 117.0 (14th)

Total offense: 297.1 (13th)

Scoring defense: 23.6 (Eighth)

Rushing defense: 136.9 (Eighth)

Passing defense: 198.8 (Sixth)

Total defense: 335.7 (Seventh) 

TRENDS

The Wildcats’ record over the last five seasons:

2015: 10-3

2016: 7-6

2017: 10-3

2018: 9-5

2019: 3-9 

EYE ON IOWA:

Record in the last five games vs. the Hawkeyes:

2015: Iowa 40, Northwestern 10

2016: Northwestern 38, Iowa 31

2017: Northwestern 17, Iowa 10 (OT)

2018: Northwestern 14, Iowa 10

2019: Iowa 20, Northwestern 0

This article originally ran on qctimes.com.

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