There are plenty of reasons to pick Northwestern as a sleeper to make some noise in the Big Ten this season.
Yeah, they won just one conference game a season ago, but they weren't far off from winning plenty more. And one of the biggest reasons to like the Cats in 2014? Experience.
Most every starter is back from a season ago, and even where starters have moved on, players with plenty of playing time under their belts are stepping in to take on a bigger role. Look to the defensive side of the ball, which is packed with experience. Even important departures like Tyler Scott and Damien Proby shouldn't do too much to detract from what could be a strong unit.
“I'm very excited about the nucleus we have coming back," defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz said Thursday during Northwestern football's media day. "We lost Tyler Scott, who was an outstanding player for us, but we had three guys that played in there (at the defensive end position). Will Hampton graduated. But Sean McEvily was out, we get Sean back. And then Damien Proby, had an outstanding year, but we rotated some linebackers in there. So we’re very excited about the nucleus we have. They have high expectations of themselves, and I have high expectations of them.”
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There's plenty of benefit to returning this many starters than just being there before. Being there before allows guys to be on the same page, not waste time figuring things out and be more effective as a team rather than a group of individuals. It can also have a positive impact up and down the depth chart.
“It’s real exciting just to know that guys have been out there with you, have been through the fire in a sense," safety Ibraheim Campbell said. "It’s kind of good and reassuring to know you have guys out there like that, guys that won’t panic under intense situations and know how to handle them. And then having guys with experience kind of helps to bring along those guys that maybe don’t have the same experience. So it’s good in that respect in that those guys are kind of preparing like they were starters, maybe not with the same experience but are mentally prepared when the moment comes.”