The spring provided the new Wildcats a chance to develop as a team, but also offered the opportunity for individual growth. After the spring scrimmage, purple-clad fans left Ryan Field with reasons to be excited. Here's what we learned this spring.
1.) Northwestern's defense appears to have improved
Pat Fitzgerald offered up his gratitude toward the Wildcat fans who bemoaned the NU defense after its struggles in 2011. The unit used the negativity as a motivator, and showed great improvements during the spring. That was evidenced in its 47-43 win over the offense in the spring game.
The defense avoided issues with communication; a problem from 2011. The unit was highlighted by the emergence of Tyler Scott and Ibraheim Campbell as potential all-conference talents. Junior DT Chance Carter put himself in position to steal the starting role this season. The Wildcat linebacker unit proved it may be the deepest in the conference.
Northwestern's defense is hungry and eager for the season-opener on September 1, where it officially receives a fresh start. The group could catch onlookers by surprise, just like it did during the spring.
2.) Kain Colter is ready to be "the guy."
Through his first two seasons with Northwestern, Kain Colter has done it all. This season, it is his job to lose, and he's not letting it go. Colter declared after the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas that he wanted to earn the starting quarterback role.
Despite a heavy push of competition from Trevor Siemian and the much-improved Zack Oliver, it appears Colter is in line to be the starter against Syracuse. He is throwing the ball with extra velocity, a sign of confidence.
The biggest change for Colter is that he is now officially a team leader. Two-year captain Dan Persa has handed over the keys to the offense, and Colter is excited for his chance to drive.
3.) Wildcat receivers may be the best in the Big Ten
After an April practice, Tony Jones made a bold, yet fair declaration. He said: "I'm trying to be modest, but I think this wide receivers unit has the ability to be the best in the Big Ten, best in the country."
Jones -- healthy after an injury-riddled 2011 season -- has a solid point. Northwestern's receiving core is loaded with talent. Demetrius Fields, Rashad Lawrence and Christian Jones each made an impact last season. Redshirt freshman Pierre Youngblood and Cameron Dickerson could each make an impact, too.
Northwestern's most notable offseason addition was USC transfer Kyle Prater, who still awaits his fate from the NCAA; however, it seems like that he will be cleared to play. With Prater, the Wildcats will have a strong group. It may be elite, as Jones suggested.
4.) NU's running back depth may be tested
It appeared to be an ominous sign when former walk-on receiver Cermak Bland was forced into action at running back during the spring. Receiver Venric Mark also joined the unit, too. With Mike Trumpy recovering from injury, just Treyvon Green and Tyris Jones can boast claim to receiving carries.
The loss of Adonis Smith and graduation of Jacob Schmidt left a big hole in the Wildcats' running back depth, which has often dealt with injury troubles. The good news, though, is that Trumpy is expected to be ready for the regular season and redshirt freshman Jordan Perkins returned at the end of the spring. NU also adds incoming freshmen Malin Jones and Stephen Buckley.
Northwestern's running back depth will be fine if it can avoid injuries, though the track record is not favorable.
5.) Northwestern's 2011 class could make an impact
Just three of Northwestern's class of 2011 signees (Jack Konopka, Christian Jones and Trevyon Green) took to the field last season. The departure of more than 20 seniors leaves many vacancies on this year's Wildcat squad. The class of 2011 is ready to step in.
Cam Dickerson and Pierre Youngblood each are in position to see their first reps this season. On the offensive line, Shane Mertz is battling for the opening at right tackle, while Geoff Mogus and Matt Frazier fight for reps at guard.
On the other side of the football, Deonte Gibson and Drew Smith likely secured a spot in the regular rotation with a strong spring, while Nick VanHoose could be in line to start at cornerback, thanks to a solid offseason.
When the team returns to action in the fall, NU coaches will get a better look at who is ready to play. Northwestern's class of 2011 appears poised for a breakout season.
A long offseason awaits; however, it won't be long till September 1 is here. Kickoff is just 132 days away.