In some ways Northwestern spoiled Nebraska's season in 2011 after upsetting the Huskers in Lincoln the week after they beat Michigan State - knocking them out of the division race.
The Wildcats lose quite a bit in 2012, but they still figure to compete in the Legends Division with quarterback Kain Colter under center. The big questions for Pat Fitzgerald's team continue to remain on defense.
HuskerOnline.com caught up with Louie Vaccher of WildcatReport.com to get his take on Northwestern coming out of the spring.
Where is this team at coming out of the spring? 2011 was obviously another year filled with highs and lows for Northwestern.
"I think they will be ok next year. They lost a lot of seniors. They lost a lot of starters on both sides of the ball. You are going to see a lot of new faces. I think they are going to be a little bit more athletic, especially on defense. I'm pretty confident with (Kain) Colter running the offense they will be pretty good there. They have lots of weapons at wide receiver. They are going to have some big targets, especially on the outside. They have some 6-3 guys it seems like everywhere and Kyle Prater, who was the No. 3 recruit in the country in 2010 just transferred from USC. He may play this year, we don't know yet.
"I think the offense will be fine. The defense again will be the question mark. They'll be younger, but I think they'll be more athletic. We'll have to see what happens on defense."
You mentioned Kain Colter at quarterback, but a year ago everybody was talking about Dan Persa. However, I think Nebraska fans might tell you they thought Colter was better than Persa last year. How much better can Colter be compared to a Dan Persa if he puts it all together like he showed against Nebraska?
"The thing was Persa was never himself last year. I don't think he ever fully recovered from that Achilles injury and then he had a couple of setbacks that we didn't hear about until after the season. He was never himself. He wasn't as explosive as a runner as he was and it was really too bad that he had to go out like he did.
"With Colter, there are some question marks about his arm. People wonder if he's got enough arm strength. Watching him in practice and in games he doesn't have the best arm, but he can make all the throws. He's such a dynamic player. Last year you could make the argument that he was their best runner and their best receiver. He's just a dynamic guy that makes things happens and that's definitely what this offense needs. You want the ball in his hands all the time."
With the defensive problems from the past few years, what has Coach Fitzgerald done differently? Are they doing anything different schematically? Are they doing anything different with their teaching methods? How have they addressed the defensive problems this spring?
"I don't think they are doing anything different schematically. Last year it was big plays that killed them. Against Illinois and Michigan and Penn State it was long throws over the top. From what everybody was saying it was miscommunication in the secondary. I know after the Iowa game they had a cornerback admit that sometimes they had the wrong calls and he didn't know if they were in a man or a zone. That kind of stuff gets you killed.
"The one thing that impressed me this year about the defense was I think the defensive line could be better this year, especially at defensive end. They've got a lot more athleticism. Deonte Gibson is a redshirt freshman and he could do some big things. Tyler Scott is an emerging star on the other side. I think he could be an All-Big Ten type of player one day for them. I think they will be able to get some more pressure on the passer and that's something they were last in the Big Ten in sacks this past year. That could really help them out and help out the secondary a lot."
Where is the biggest hole on this defense right now?
"It's the secondary definitely. They had to replace three starters from last year. Jordan Mabin was a four-year starter and Brian Peters basically started for three and a half years. There is a lot of experience they are losing. They have one safety spot nailed down. Abraham Campbell was a freshman All-American last year. One cornerback will be Daniel Jones, who came on last year.
"They have one question mark at cornerback still and another question still at safety. That's the biggest question mark. That's where they lost the most talent. They are going to be young, and you know how it is with young players in the secondary. You are going to take a few lumps."
A lot of Nebraska fans will be looking forward to this trip to Evanston. If you were to tell Nebraska fans the best way to get their hands on tickets, how would you do it?
"You can usually do it through Northwestern. I imagine the demand when they release it to the general public, I imagine the demand for that game is going to be huge. Northwestern rarely sells out home games unless the other team brings a ton. Nebraska will be a sellout for sure. Definitely the first place to go is through the ticket office, because a lot of times if you can get in early enough I don't think it will be a problem. That's where to start anyway."
Lastly, in terms of overall win-loss expectations where do you see this team in 2012?
"I think they can be a 7 win team or somewhere around there. If a couple breaks go their way maybe they can get 8 wins. I think the schedule is pretty favorable. They've got four pretty winnable non-conference games and the conference schedule the way it works out is pretty good. It seems like that's always the case with Northwestern. Offensively they just plug in new players and go. Their offense has been pretty steady for the last decade. The questions have always been on the defensive end.
"I think they'll be athletic and more talented, but they are going to be young. You are going to see some mistakes out there, but hopefully as the season goes on they will be better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year."