We initially skimmed over the fact that Nick VanHoose appeared to be part of the solution. Then a redshirt freshman, he provided stability when, as usual, no one else really did. This, I believe, is true: Without VanHoose, we'd be much more nervous about this team's chances in '13.
I like Daniel Jones' chances of improvement, and think Keith Watkins might very well play in his freshman season, but VanHoose gives this team the semi-shutdown presence they have needed for years. He was barely thought about for some time, but earned his recognition with an impressive 2012.
Even more impressive: You could tell when VanHoose missed games. His absence was always noticeable, in the sense that he tended to impact the action whenever healthy. He made ESPN's Big Ten All-Freshman team, and earned conference Freshman of the Week honors after three (endzone) pass breakups against Minnesota. VanHoose came out of nowhere, but was a major part of the team's success.
It began at Syracuse, when VanHoose was the lone competent piece to the secondary. He made nine tackles then, and after an ill-timed injury against Vanderbilt (that didn't prove too costly), had his next special outing against Indiana. In that game, he hauled in his first career interception—with even better things to come.
VanHoose recovered a combined three muffed punts against Penn State and Nebraska, and continued to make an impact despite frequent injuries. With improved health in 2013, he could end up even higher on this list. For now, he's still a force.
Could All-Big Ten honors be next? VanHoose has three years of eligibility remaining, and might take that next step in 2013. Some wins and losses might hinge on the play of this secondary; VanHoose needs to be at the center of it all.
This secondary looks much better than it has in previous years. The Wildcats boast one of the top safety tandems in the conference with Traveon Henry and Ibraheim Campbell. If Jones can straighten out his inconsistency, with others stepping up, there's no reason to think this group of cornerbacks won't be solid as well.
Once a major weakness, the future of Northwestern's cornerback position appears promising. Much of that can be attributed to last year's breakout star, who prepares for even better as NU readies for its championship race.