As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.
How will Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian fare in new one-quarterback system?
This season at Northwestern, the amount of change depends on where you look.
It’s change, of course, that will seemingly define this season whether the team has anything to do with it or not. That’s in reference to the unionization attempt (which seems to have little chance at success at this point) and the unending attention the media will give it all season long, despite the fact that comments from players have indicated it’s no longer an issue for the team itself.
Throughout the roster, however, the change is minimal. Nearly every starter is back from last year’s team. Even injured running back Venric Mark returns, which could make things seem a little more like the 10-win days of 2012 than the five-win days of last season.
But change will still come in certain spots, and that change could make or break the season. At quarterback, the most important position on the field, Trevor Siemian gets his shot at doing the job all by himself. The past two seasons, he’s teamed with Kain Colter to form a dual-quarterback system that has both worked like a charm (2012) and not worked so well (2013).
What’s lost with Colter’s departure is, on the field, a running threat from the quarterback position, the versatility that made Colter an effective weapon at times. And, of course, with Colter representing the athletic ability and Siemian representing the more stereotypical quarterback with the big arm, the two complimented each other very well. The position obviously becomes much less versatile with Colter gone. Off the field, the team loses leadership from Colter, who was vocal even before he was leading the charge for radical reform in college athletics.
While Mark will be the star of the offense, Siemian’s big challenge won’t be to be one of the best quarterbacks in the world. It’ll simply be to make sure Northwestern has a passing attack that defenses need to be wary of. That wasn’t the case throughout much of last season, and it’s what could be determine whether 2014 will be a repeat of last year’s misery or of the success of two years earlier. Last season, the pass yardage was there, as the Wildcats ranked fifth in the conference with 215.8 yards per game. But they scored just 15 touchdowns via the pass (second fewest in the league), and the combo of Siemian and Colter completed just 55.2 percent of their throws (also second lowest in the Big Ten).
Siemian got his chance to shine last year and didn’t do much with it. The numbers were all right. Even splitting time with Colter — who was bothered with injuries all year and knocked out of a few games, meaning Siemian's one-man show this year won't be entirely new — Siemian managed 2,143 passing yards and ranked in the top 10 in the Big Ten in passing yards per game. But he mustered just 11 touchdowns and threw nine interceptions. The picks were key, too. He threw critical interceptions in the losses to Ohio State and Minnesota.
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But there’s a bright side. This offseason, Siemian has shown he’s capable of filling the leadership void left by Colter, even if it comes at the expense of his departed ex-teammate. It’s Siemian who’s been most quoted as being against the Colter-helmed unionization movement, and he’s been outspoken in sharing that point of view which he claims is shared by a majority of his teammates. If the Wildcats truly can put the whole unionization issue behind them once the season begins, it appears that Siemian could be the key to doing that.
On the field, Siemian had far and away his best game of the year in the season finale against rival Illinois, completing more than 70 percent of his passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns. Most importantly: zero interceptions. It could be a great sign of things to come. Siemian did manage 200-plus-yard games six times last season. With an offense surely retooled to accommodate just one quarterback and a full offseason as the guy in Evanston, Siemian could flourish.
It’s not that bad things are expected from Siemian, who’s entering his senior season with two years as a featured QB under his belt. He just hasn’t been the only QB until now. And therein lies the unknown. If it were any other position, this much attention would seem ridiculous. But it’s quarterback. In reality, Siemian is a returning player just like much of the rest of the Wildcats. But he’ll be under a huge microscope just because he’ll play such a large part in determining just what his team will do this season.