Preseason Breakdown: Quarterbacks

Our position breakdowns begin with an evaluation of the quarterback situation heading into week one.

During practices, the quarterback drills always seem most riveting. The group–including just about every backup–lines up in the most easily judged contest for the average media member.

Offensive coordinator Mick McCall sets them up, with a three-target red net approximately 25 to 30 yards away—and along the sidelines. Every day on this team, the results are wildly different.

When it comes to pure passing strength, there are often few distinctions between the top three (and now four) quarterback options. What distinguishes Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian has little to do with throwing strength. It has nothing to do with what you see throughout practice routines.

Kain Colter was mediocre in fall camp, honestly, and that means just about nothing moving forward. Colter, who could also excel at wide receiver, can distort his throwing rhythm and miss three straight tosses by several yards.

It's nothing brand new. When you line the offense up in tangible situations, Colter always demonstrates his unique ability. The running plays lead to wide-open short throws. Because opposing defenses are forced to respect his versatility, the combination leads to the overall successful offense that fans were exposed to last season.

Though I've extensively argued about the potential of moving Colter to wide receiver on a full-time basis (let's not rekindle that discussion), the offense works either way. He's a special player for reasons not immediately apparent in skeleton drills. And that's how Northwestern runs.

Then, we'll anticipate more of the Trevor Siemian heroics that saved last season. The more you think about it, the more underrated Siemian can seem. His clutch play–get at me, sabermetrics–likely added another win to NU's total. There was Syracuse, of course, and Michigan would have been another nice addition to his résumé had the Wildcats not blown up.

As mentioned these past few weeks, Siemian was challenged with more vertical throws to talented receivers like Christian Jones. He effortlessly spread the ball against the first-team defense at times, showing flashes of what could be.

Regardless of the statistical breakdown, one message board poster puts it so well: When you need to move the ball in late-game situations, Siemian needs to be on the field. With improvements (something people often forget to mention) he could be even better and more useful as part of this two-quarterback system.

We're not sure whether anything will fundamentally change within the offensive game plan. Cynicism aside, Northwestern can score points and succeed from the QB spot with even more frequency than they did last season.

Some major developments took place behind the co-starting quarterbacks. Zack Oliver earned rave reviews, for good reason. The redshirt sophomore flashed his cannon (the strongest on the team) and could well compete for the 2015 job against a loaded and young depth chart.

Then, Matt Alviti stunned me with his readiness. We knew the four-star Maine South HS (Ill.) prospect would excel for this team down the road. But he made an immediate impression leading up to his redshirt campaign.

Alviti looks to have gained muscle–with more to come–and gradually settled into the offense. Those late practices can be a struggle for any freshman, but Alviti took it in stride and performed fairly well. He exceeded the already lofty expectations.

In one fragment

Kain Colter— Will be at his versatile best when week one arrives.

Trevor Siemian— Took the next step in showing off his vertical passing ability.

Zack Oliver— Impressive cannon.

Matt Alviti— True frosh on hype building campaign.

Depth chart

1-a. Kain Colter
1-b. Trevor Siemian
Zack Oliver
Matt Alviti (RS)

Stay tuned to for our preseason position group updates. We'll be on hand when Northwestern opens its season at California next Saturday.

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