Northwestern is glad last year is over and they can finally start over. With very high expectations in 2013 coming off the win in the Gator Bowl in 2012, they went 1-7 in conference play and were not bowl eligible at the end of the season. This season is starting off the same way, with high expectations to at least get back to a bowl game. NU is returning 17 starters (9 offense, 8 defense) and with Kain Colter trying for a roster spot with the Minnesota Vikings, the NU offense now belongs to Trevor Siemian. Don’t let the 1-7 record fool you last season, as they were just a couple of points from being at the least a seven win team. I will give you five key offensive players for Northwestern in 2014 that you need to keep an eye on, as they can help get the ‘Cats back to a bowl game.
#5 Kyle Prater, Senior, WR
Kyle Prater was one of USC’s top wide receiver but he excited NU fans when he transferred to the Wildcats. Prater once a five-star recruit has done nothing but ‘not’ live up to his expectations. Injuries have been the story of his career so far limiting him to almost no playing time. Prater is healthy now and finally feels good about himself coming into 2014. Having a great spring where he showed the burst of speed and catching ability that made scouts fall in love with him, Prater is looking to finally live up to his expectations. He is a big kid that is great in the vertical game and a great asset in the red zone. Another thing that helps him this year is the NU offense is going will be very pass heavy. With talented receivers all around him and a quarterback that has a strong-arm, NU is looking to have one of the best offenses in the Big Ten in 2014.
#4 Dan Vitale, Junior, SB
Dan Vitale is what I consider the most dangerous player on the Northwestern Wildcats. All it takes is one catch and the NU fans will erupt in cheers as he heads down the field with the ball. He is a monster with yards after the catch, as he will lay the defenders flat on their back when they go to tackle him. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald gave him the title “Superback,” the position combines the skill set of the speed of a running back, the blocking acumen of a tight end, the hands of a receiver and I’ll add in the tough factor of a fullback. He has become Mr. Clutch for the wildcats, because when they need a big play he usually delivers. Vitale had a better sophomore season then his freshman year and with two years still to go, the sky is the limit for this kid. I’m expecting Vitale to have a monster season with quarterback Trevor Siemian being the clear-cut starter and not having a two quarterback system. He is also a great blocker and will help the receivers out this year by drawing the safeties down field. Look for the superback to make some noise here in 2014.
#3 Tony Jones, Senior, WR
Mark my words, “2014 will be a big break out season for Tony Jones!” The stage is set for Jones to have a career year his senior season. He started out hot in 2013 with 255 yards receiving and two touchdowns in his first two games, then started slowly declining due to inconsistent health issues. Jones is an explosive receiver that is not only a deep threat but also a threat going across the field. Having quarterback Trevor Siemian at the helm for the NU offense all season should do great things for the receiving corps in 2014. Running back Venric Mark is back this season also, which will help out Jones in more than just one way. By the Cats having a solid run game it is going to free up Jones a little more and give Siemian more time to find Jones down field with play-action calls. He “shouldn’t” have to return punts this year now that Mark is back, as Mark should step back into that role. Jones can now focus on what he needs to do on offense and not worry about anything else.
#2 Treyvon Green, SR, RB
Treyvon Green will have to carry a heavy load this season with the absence of Venric Mark. Mark was suspended the first two games of the season this year but decided he was going to transfer out of Northwestern. Being the starter will be nothing new for Green as he started in place of Mark last year, as Mark was out for the season due to an ankle injury. Green finished 12th in the Big Ten, with eight touchdowns and 736rushing yards. He shared time with Stephen Buckley who ran for 265 yards. With the absence of Mark now it could give four-star recruit, true freshman, Justin Jackson a shot to get into the action this season as well. Green is now a senior so he will have to step up and give this offense and the younger running backs some leadership, as he works to keep the Wildcats in bowl contention.
#1 Trevor Siemian, Senior, QB
When the Northwestern players step into the huddle this season there will be no question on who is the captain of the huddle. Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian will finally have the offense all to himself after being a co-starter the past two seasons with Kain Colter. It will help the offense be more balanced and have less confusion. Siemian will have an offensive line in front of him that has great potential, maybe everyone of the best in the Big Ten. He struggled last season, could be due to not having a solid role, but came to life against Illinois in the last week of the season. Siemian had 414 yards and four touchdowns through the air. With a defense that was good last year and should improve more this year, and the weapons that are returning on the offensive side, “There is no doubt in my mind Siemian takes the Cats back to a bowl game.”