Team preview: Northwestern

Editor's Note: ESPN Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook to provide a comprehensive look at all 119 Division I-A teams. To order the complete 2006 edition of Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).

Editor's Note: Linebackers coach Pat Fitzgerald was promoted to head coach on July 7, replacing Randy Walker, who died on June 29. Most of the information below was gathered prior to Walker's death and is presented as it will appear in the 2006 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook.

(All information as of July 1, 2006)


The refrain should sound familiar to Northwestern fans by now -- this is the year that the Wildcats' defense will improve enough to provide a capable companion to their first-class offense. Once again last season, the discrepancy could not have been more glaring. Northwestern ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in total offense, and No. 11 in total defense. The 'Cats were No. 1 in passing offense, No. 10 in pass defense. They were No. 5 in rushing offense, No. 10 defending the run.

If the balance returns, it could come with improvement from the defense, but it's more likely that the offense will take a step back with the loss of a key pair of four-year starters in quarterback Brett Basanez and tackle Zach Strief. The defense also has to find a replacement for its own four-year starter, linebacker Tim McGarigle. But the 'Cats also played 11 freshmen last year and 24 freshmen overall, which ranked the program third in the country in number of freshmen playing. So there's some talent handy.