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Outside perception finally in line with Northwestern’s expectations

Indianv Northwestern

Indiana v Northwestern

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• Saturday at Cal (W)

Injuries to Cal’s defense make it easy for Wildcats

• Sept. 7 vs. Syracuse (W)

Schematic challenges against new staff

• Sept. 14 at W. Michigan (W)

Must be used to scheming against a new staff by now

• Sept. 21 vs. Maine (W)

Glorified scrimmage

• Oct. 5 vs. Ohio State (L)

They’ll see these guys again

• Oct. 12 at Wisconsin (W)

Biggest victory of season

• Oct. 19 vs. Minnesota (W)

First-half hangover, close throughout

• Oct. 26 at Iowa (W)

Defensive performance of year

• Nov. 2 at Nebraska (L)

Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez goes off

• Nov. 16 vs. Michigan (W)

Battle of athletic
quarterbacks

Nov. 23 vs. Michigan State (W)

Wildcats’ ‘‘O’’ flexes against Big Ten’s best ‘‘D’’

Nov. 30 at Illinois (W)

They call these guys rivals?

All offseason, Northwestern has fielded questions about how it will deal with increasingly high external expectations. And the last six months would have been much more interesting if the Wildcats had been honest in saying they couldn’t care less.

NU always has had high expectations internally. The Wildcats only have become a topic of conversation now because what onlookers expect of them this season parallels what they think they can accomplish.

‘‘We will always focus inward on who we are and what we’re about and how we need to go about our business preparing,’’ NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ‘‘Our internal expectations far outweigh external expectations, and they’ve been that way for a long time.’’

NU expects to win a Big Ten championship. The outside perception is that the Wildcats have a chance to accomplish that. The real question isn’t whether they’ll be able to deal with the expectations but how they will meet them.

NU won’t creep up on anyone this season. The Wildcats have a group of offensive skill players that Fitzgerald said is as talented as he has had in his seven-year tenure as coach.

Traditionally, NU’s best seasons have come when it has been most successful offensively. But that talented group would need to better its effort from last season if the Wildcats hope to make a run to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

NU went 10-3 last season, but it will face a more daunting schedule with games against Ohio State and at Wisconsin — teams it didn’t play in 2012. The Wildcats can score with both those teams, but beating them will depend on whether a defense that struggled to close games last season can improve in the fourth quarter.

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen

5 players to watch

QB Kain Colter: The dynamic Colter should see some action at running back and receiver but will receive most of his playing time under center.

QB Trevor Siemian: Considered 1-a on the depth chart, the strong-armed junior says he has made his game more versatile this offseason by becoming more of a runner.

RB/KR Venric Mark: An All-America selection last season as a return specialist, he is the Wildcats’ most explosive playmaker.

DE Tyler Scott: Led the team with nine sacks last season and anchors a much-improved front seven.

S Ibraheim Campbell: Will the hard-hitting Campbell be stout in pass coverage this season?

Stats corner

3 The number of blown fourth-quarter leads — and losses — for Northwestern last season.

15 Returning starters, including eight on offense and all but one skill-position player on that side.

0 True freshmen listed on the Wildcats’ two-deep depth chart.

• Saturday at Cal (W)

Injuries to Cal’s defense make it easy for Wildcats

• Sept. 7 vs. Syracuse (W)

Schematic challenges against new staff

• Sept. 14 at W. Michigan (W)

Must be used to scheming against a new staff by now

• Sept. 21 vs. Maine (W)

Glorified scrimmage

• Oct. 5 vs. Ohio State (L)

They’ll see these guys again

• Oct. 12 at Wisconsin (W)

Biggest victory of season

• Oct. 19 vs. Minnesota (W)

First-half hangover, close throughout

• Oct. 26 at Iowa (W)

Defensive performance of year

• Nov. 2 at Nebraska (L)

Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez goes off

• Nov. 16 vs. Michigan (W)

Battle of athletic quarterbacks

• Nov. 23 vs. Michigan State (W)

Wildcats’ ‘‘O’’ flexes against Big Ten’s best ‘‘D’’

Nov. 30 at Illinois (W)

They call these guys rivals?



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