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Northwestern Players to Watch Against Michigan State

With little production from 2020 returning this season, which players will stand out against the Spartans?

The 2021 Northwestern University football season is set to begin September 3rd when the Wildcats host Michigan State. The season provides an opportunity for several Wildcats to show themselves, as only 34% of the 2020 team's production is returning this fall.

This could be considered unfortunate, but in the topsy-turvy world of college football, every question mark can lead to a golden opportunity. The Wildcat brass know this, and pointed out a few players to watch for Week 1.

QB Hunter Johnson and WR Stephon Robinson Jr.

While quarterback Hunter Johnson is not new for the Wildcats, he is returning to a starting role that he last held in 2019. Johnson started five games that season, throwing for 432 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.

Johnson put that showing behind him and was able to learn under 2020 starter Peyton Ramsey and eventually reclaim the starting role in 2021, so expectations for the signal caller are much higher. The former five-star prospect has an opportunity to live up to his lofty expectations, and a key development in that will be how he meshes with wide receiver Stephon Robinson Jr.

Robinson Jr. is a new addition to the Wildcats after playing as an undergraduate at the University of Kansas. He had over 1,000 receiving yards with Jayhawk teams that saw very little success, and figures to be an impact player for the Wildcats.

Robinson Jr. spoke about the connection he has developed with Johnson, and his words spark positivity towards the production between the two this season.

"It's been getting better each and every day," Robinson Jr. said. "When we are doing routes, we are getting more camaraderie, and today we had a one on one in practice where we were on the same type of level."

RB Evan Hull

When expected starting running back Cam Porter went down last month with a season ending injury, the key to the rushing attack was given to sophomore Evan Hull. 

Porter may have been the teams leading rusher in 2020 but Hull was certainly no slouch. Hull ran for 286 yards on 46 carries and scored four touchdowns in 2020. He has nearly 500 total rushing yards in his two-season career to this point, and was certainly going to get significant carries this season, so the starting role should not be too overwhelming for him.

Peter McIntyre, Chris Bergin and Linebackers as a Whole

Having a solid game on defense will be huge for the Wildcats in their quest to defeat the Spartans, and strong play from a linebacker crew that is lacking in experience is something that fans should look for.

Graduate student Chris Bergin is a captain for this season, was given several preseason honors, and is coming off a 2020 season where he made 78 total tackles and added an interception and sack in his nine games played. Bergin will be a leader of the defense and should help the young core in adjusting to Big Ten football.

Senior Peter McIntyre does not carry the same experience of Bergin, but has been hailed by many involved with the Wildcats as a potential breakout candidate. He has consistently appeared in some games over his first three seasons, but finally steps into a starting spot in his last season.

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McIntyre spoke about Bergin and how easy he is to play off, showing how the two are on the same page in terms of communication.

"I love Chris," McIntyre said. "I love playing alongside him, always, always a high energy guy, a high effort guy and his effort getting to the ball every play rubs off on everyone around him, it just makes you want to race to the ball and make plays yourself."

McIntyre also spoke about the lack of experience from the rest of the linebacker core, but believes that they possess the physical edge needed to be successful at the Big Ten level.

"Oh, we definitely got some young guys with little experience but everyone's kind of stepping up into their own roles," McIntyre said. "Everyone knows that they're gonna have their opportunity to play this year. So everyone's playing as physical as possible and get to the ball." 

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