The case for

The Wildcats' plan of attack remains the same as it was in 2012, when they went 10--3: Pound teams with a multifaceted ground game and make big plays on special teams. Northwestern presents a true dual threat at quarterback. Senior run-pass athlete Kain Colter starts, but he'll share time with junior Trevor Siemian, who's more of a pure passer. The two QBs and the breakaway speed of senior running back Venric Mark will allow coordinator Mick McCall to switch tactics and surprise opposing defenses. In addition, last year's starting receivers (junior Christian Jones and senior Rashad Lawrence) return, along with one of the nation's best kickers in senior Jeff Budzien. Then there's Pat Fitzgerald, a player's coach who understands the challenge since he played in Evanston in the 1990s. The 'Cats trailed for a grand total of 4:45 last year. Expect them to hold lots of leads again.

The case against

The secondary didn't surrender too many big plays last season, but it gave up a costly one at Michigan: a 53-yard pass at the end of regulation that set up a 38--31 OT loss. Three of the four starters return, but if they have not improved it will lead to more late-game difficulties for Northwestern.

Coach Speak

PAT FITZGERALD

SI

Has this program reached the point where fans can expect seven to 10 wins every year?

PF

It better have, or I'm going to lose my job. And it better not be seven, or I'm not going to be in a very good humor.

SI

What was the difference between winning 10 games as a player in 1995 and as a coach last year?

PF

My body hurt a lot less this time around.

SI

What do you expect from preseason All--Big Ten running back Venric Mark this season?

PF

I think he's one of the more dynamic playmakers in all aspects of college football.

SI

Do your players feel that they have a bull's-eye on their backs following a 10-win season?

PF

I'm not as worried about that as much as I am about continuing to have the focus, the hunger and the hunter mentality that we've had.

SI

What is the program's biggest strength?

PF

Our biggest strength right now is confidence. I think we've got a belief system right now, that if we stick to who we are and what we do and continue to improve, that we can compete and beat anybody that we play.

Player to Watch

Ifeadi Odenigbowas set to be a regular in last year's D-line rotation as a freshman but appeared only once before suffering a season-ending left shoulder injury. The 6'3", 220-pound end should start and use his speed to rack up sacks.

PHOTOEVAN HABEEB/US PRESSWIRE (MARK)Venric Mark PHOTORANDY LITZINGER/ICON SMI (FITZGERALD) CHART
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)