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Big Ten breakdown: Northwestern

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Big Ten breakdown: Northwestern

Coach: Pat Fitzgerald, 106-81 entering 16th season at Northwestern and overall

2020 record: 7-2, 6-2 Big Ten (first, West), beat Auburn 25-19 in the Citrus Bowl

Offensive starters returning (3): C Sam Gerak, OT Peter Skoronski, OG Ethan Wiederkehr

Defensive starters returning (3): DE Adetomiwa Adebawore, LB Chris Bergin, S Brandon Joseph

Specialists returning (2): P Derek Adams, PK Charlie Kuhbander

Returning statistical leaders: Rushing, Cam Porter 81-333; Passing, None; Receiving, Cam Porter 9-57; Tackles, Chris Bergin 78

Starring roles

Brandon Joseph: A consensus first-team all-American last season, the 6-foot-1, 192-pound sophomore shared the lead in the Football Bowl Subdivision with six interceptions last season. Joseph also finished with 52 tackles last season and will join returning linebacker Chris Bergin in helping lead a young defense that returns just one starter in the seconday and three starters overall.

Peter Skoronski: With an entirely new set of prospects stepping into starting roles on offense, the Wildcats will build their offense around three returning starters on the line. That includes the 6-foot-4, 294-pound sophomore who started as a true freshman at left tackle in all nine games the Wildcats played last season. He’ll likely be helping protect Hunter Johnson, a senior who beat out South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski and senior Andrew Marty for the starting quarterback position during fall camp.

On the rise

Cam Porter: Emerged late last season as the go-to running back in the Northwestern offense. The 5-10, 220-pound sophomore ran for all but 32 of his team-leading 333 rushing yards and all but one of his five touchdowns in the Wildcats’ final three games in 2020. His breakout game came against Illinois, when he rushed for 142 yards in the regular-season finale.

Coach speak

“While the focus has been on what we lost, I couldn’t be more excited about what we have. You look at the way we recruited, you look at where our recruiting is right now. … I think we’ve got as much depth and talent as we’ve had in my time, but will see how it plays out.’’ – Pat Fitzgerald

2021 schedule

Sept. 3 – Michigan State

Sept. 11 – Indiana State

Sept. 18 – at Duke

Sept. 25 – Ohio

Oct. 2 – at Nebraska*

Oct. 16 – Rutgers

Oct. 23 – at Michigan

Oct. 30 – Minnesota*

Nov. 6 – Iowa*

Nov. 13 – at Wisconsin*

Nov. 20 – vs. Purdue at Wrigley Field*

Nov. 27 – at Illinois

* -- West Division game

Numerology

Where Northwestern ranked in the Big Ten in 2021:

Scoring offense: 24.7 (10th)

Rushing offense: 162.8 (Eighth)

Passing offense: 197.9 (Ninth)

Total offense: 360.7 (Ninth)

Scoring defense: 15.9 (First)

Rushing defense: 145.9 (Seventh)

Passing defense: 195.3 (First)

Total defense: 341.2 (Fourth)

Trends

The Wildcats record over the last five seasons:

2016: 7-6

2017: 10-3

2018: 9-5

2019: 3-9

2020: 7-2

Eye on Iowa

Record in the last five games vs. the Hawkeyes:

2016: Northwestern 38, Iowa 31

2017: Northwestern 17, Iowa 10 (OT)

2018: Northwestern 14, Iowa 10

2019: Iowa 20, Northwestern 0

2020: Northwestern 21, Iowa 20

– Steve Batterson

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