Summer opponent preview: Northwestern

Big Red Report's Kyle Phillippi breaks down future Nebraska opponents this fall.

Northwestern - Nov. 2nd, 2013

2012 Record: 10-3 (5-3 Big Ten)

Best Returning Player – Offense: RB Venric Mark

The Wildcats ranked fourth in the conference with 226.3 yards per game. The key cog behind their success was Mark and his 1,366 yards. The junior's breakout season in 2012 included 12 touchdowns and more impressively, six games of 100 or more yards against Big Ten opponents. Prior to his junior campaign, Mark had never carried the ball more than 15 times in a season and he only found the endzone once in his career. Now that he has a year under his belt and a boatload of confidence after recording the third most rushing yards in the conference, there's no telling just how dangerous Mark will be in his final season. One thing is for sure, though, and that's the fact that Mark will be the cornerstone of Northwestern's offense next season and he'll have plenty of chances to make a name for himself at the national level.

Best Returning Player – Defense: DE Tyler Scott

There's two All-Big Ten caliber players on Northwestern's defense: linebacker Damien Proby and Scott. The reason Scott is labeled their most important player on defense is his ability to pressure the passer. The Big Ten was home to some of the most talented pass rushers in the nation, most notably Ohio State's John Simon and Purdue's Kawaan Short. Yet, matching Simon's sack total was Scott. With a Big Ten leading nine sacks, Scott proved to be a force to be reckon with for opposing offensive linemen and he'll undoubtedly face more double teams in his senior season. Still, though, Scott will remain the most valuable player on the Wildcats' defense and his presence will boost the performance of his teammates, especially Proby.

Biggest Loss – Offensive Line

The most overlooked position in all of sports, the loss of guards Brian Murloe and Neal Deiters and tackle Patrick Ward cannot be overstated. These three players helped propel one of the nation's best running attacks and paved the way for Venric Mark, Kain Colter and everyone else who contributed in the Wildcats' ground game. Northwestern's ability to replenish their offensive line in 2013 will be a major determinant in whether or not this can finally be their year to win the Big Ten.

Last Meeting vs. Nebraska October 20, 2012

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald would have really liked to see this game turnout differently than it did. The Cornhuskers' 29-28 win came to fruition after the Wildcats blew a 28-16 lead with less than six minutes to play.

Taylor Martinez came to life in the final five minutes, hitting Taariq Allen and Ben Cotton for eight and seven yard touchdown passes, respectively. The dual-threat quarterback racked up 342 passing yards and four total touchdowns. This wasn't a pretty game for Nebraska, though, as they turned the turned the ball over three times via fumble.

After suffering a devastating loss at home, Fitzgerald will certainly have his guys fired up with hopes of doing the same to Nebraska in front of their hometown crowd.

How They Matchup With Northwestern:

2011 Statistics:

Scoring Offense: Northwestern (31.7), Nebraska (34.8)
Scoring Defense: Northwestern (22.5), Nebraska (27.6)

Passing Offense: Northwestern (169.5), Nebraska (207.4)
Passing Defense: Northwestern (250.5), Nebraska (168.1)

Rushing Offense: Northwestern (226.3), Nebraska (253.4)
Rushing Defense: Northwestern (127.6), Nebraska (192.5)

Total Offense: Northwestern (395.8), Nebraska (460.8)
Total Defense: Northwestern (378.2), Nebraska (360.6)

Nebraska Player to Watch: WR Kenny Bell matched up with the leagues' worst pass defense, Martinez will have plenty of passing lanes to work with. This should translate into a terrific outing from Bell. In last year's matchup, the sophomore wideout hauled in six passes for 77 yards and one touchdown. Northwestern is well aware of Martinez's abilities, but stopping both his arm and his legs is a tall task. The senior quarterback will have his way with the opposing secondary and he'll go to his favorite target early and often in what will be Nebraska's hardest conference game to date.

Interesting Northwestern Fact: Getting pressure on Northwestern can be done. Bringing the passer down, though, proved to be near impossible. Their quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter, were sacked a league-low 16 times. In comparison, Nebraska allowed 35 sacks.

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Kyle Phillippi covers the Big Ten Conference for His work has also been featured in Big Red Report Magazine and
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