I hope everyone had an amazing weekend, I know I took full advantage of a few days straight with sunny and somewhat warm weather(sad that low 60's seem amazing this time of year, huh?) With that said it's back to the grind to bring you the best in Badgers coverage. Today I bring you the final installment in my look at the Big Ten Conference's Spring Football camps and we wrap it up with the Northwestern Wildcats. This team had an interesting 2010 and the buzz words around Evanston are "taking the next step." That is certainly an understandable goal for a team that showed a lot of promise last year and has a huge returning nucleus to fall back on. How did Spring go for the Purple and Black? Let's see what emerged and what questions remain.
2010 Season: 7-6 (3-5) tie for 7th
Postseason: Ticket City Bowl: 38-45L to Texas Tech
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (34-29, 5 years)
Spring Game: April 16th (48-36 Offense over Defense)
Returning Starters: 17 (9 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams)
2011 Spring: The biggest topic in the 2011 Spring Football season in Evanston wasn't what was happening on the field, but rather the health of 2010 star QB Dan Persa who ruptured his achilles tendon in early November on the last second TD pass to beat Iowa. All indications out of the Wildcats program point to him being fully ready for practice when fall camp comes around and that's a huge relief for a team that is looking to bank on it's massive 16 returning starters. Looking at the rest of the division their are 4 teams that have major question marks and Northwestern could be in a great position to challenge for the division title should Persa stay healthy and continue to play at the level he was at last year.
With Persa not available the Wildcats got a wide open look at who could be there should he go down and for me only 2 guys emerged as having that potential and for completely different reasons. 1st in my mind is Evan Watkins who went 7-11 for 70 yards and 1TD in the Spring Game. Then there is mighty mouse QB Kain Colter who was able to rush for 42 yards on 4 carries and 1TD, so it may be a matter of which one can improve the most on their weak spots of running and throwing respectively. Either way I think the program is in good shape should Persa have some lingering rust or health issues.
According to all reports the defense worked well all Spring and will be looking to vastly improve on 2010 where they gave up nearly 30ppg. They may need to be counted on early in the year as Persa get's back in the normal flow of football again. Look for Safety Brian Peters, who led the team in tackles(107), Interceptions(3), and defensive TD's(1) to be the vocal and emotional leader of this team. Unfortunately the Spring saw a lot of the starters missing with nagging injuries, but it also provided a great opportunity for some of the young guys to gain experience and show what they have for the future.
Overall the 2011 season really hinges on the progress of Persa and the defensive line. If both improve on 2010 this team could very well be a contender in a division that really only has 1 team without a major question mark in Nebraska. I'm not saying they will win the division but this team scares me and from a Badgers perspective I'm glad they aren't on our schedule. Hope you are all having a great Monday and as always... ON WISCONSIN!!!