Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has been through a lot during his nine years at Northwestern. His program has been trending downward as of late, and this has the feel of a make-or-break year for his Wildcats. No matter what happens, though, he has a few wildcards on this roster who could give Michigan trouble.
Clayton Thorson (QB)
Fitzgerald hasn’t said who will start at quarterback for the Wildcats this season (and we likely won’t know for a while), but if you’re looking for someone who can bring the most dynamic factors into the game, it’s Thorson.
The redshirt freshman was ranked by 247Sports as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2014.
His biggest competition will come from Zack Oliver, who filled in for Trevor Siemian sometimes last season. (It didn’t work out very well.)
Unless Oliver takes huge strides in the days before the season opener, this will be and should be Thorson’s job, and Michigan’s defense will have a tough time containing him.
Justin Jackson (RB)
It doesn’t really matter who’s taking the snaps; Justin Jackson will be the biggest threat every Northwestern opponent faces this season. He piled it on last season as a true freshman with 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns and only fumbled once.
He’s a small horse out of the backfield and should be used as often as possible. Michigan didn’t struggle very often last season stopping the run, and though the front seven will still be talented, the line won’t look quite as stellar.
Dean Lowry (DE)
Lowry will need to be one of the anchors in the front seven. A talented and deep defensive line is going to have to cover up somewhat for a depleted linebacker crops. Lowry returns as Northwestern’s most dangerous presence in the backfield (8.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks); he’ll demand a lot of attention from a Michigan offensive line that should be improved—but who knows by how much?