The Northwestern Wildcats head into the 2020 season with optimism. They'll be looking to rebound from last year's 3-9 campaign, and get back into postseason contention. Most of the optimism centers around the Wildcat offense. New offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian is upgrading the Wildcats playbook, the Wildcats added some fresh talent in the offseason, and everybody is coming back healthy. NU looks to impress this season, and here are five players on this side of the ball who will help them achieve that.
Peyton Ramsey, QB
Ramsey transferred from Indiana in March, right before spring football was stopped due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He comes to Northwestern after posting 6,581 passing yards, 832 rushing yards, and 56 combined touchdowns for the Hoosiers from 2017 to '19. Not bad for someone who had to rotate with two other signal-callers. Ramsey is praised for his arm strength, accuracy, mobility, and decision making, which explains why he ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 QBs in pretty much every major passing category last year. Some say Ramsey is the favorite to win the starting job this summer.
Isaiah Bowser, RB
After becoming a breakout star as a freshman in 2018, Bowser regressed last season. Injuries limited him to just five games in which he posted only 204 rushing yards, 24 receiving yards and no touchdowns. But after having a full offseason to recover, and now having the benefit of coach Bajakian's new playbook, Bowser is primed to give opposing defenses fits once again. When healthy, Bowser's combination of speed and strength makes him difficult to tackle as he grinds out yards to keep the chains moving. Bowser will be a key player again this season.
Drake Anderson, RB
Another plus about Bajakian's offense is that he likes to run the ball (See: Boston College standout AJ Dillon). So that means Anderson will also get his reps, and potentially form a one-two punch with Bowser. In Bowser's absence, Anderson accounted for 698 yards from scrimmage with three total touchdowns last year. The son of Northwestern legend Damian Anderson also averaged 4.1 yards per rushing attempt and 4.7 yards per catch in the process. He gave the Wildcats a fighting chance as their offense struggled through the season.
Riley Lees, WR
Even with all of the injuries, and the issues under center, Lees was still able to lead the Wildcats in receptions (51), receiving yards (430), and touchdown catches (2). And with Bennett Skowronek now at Notre Dame, Lees will need to be NU's go-to receiver. Wide receiver is one of the Wildcats' most experienced positions that has six other upperclassmen, including J.J. Jefferson, Jace James, Kyric McGowan, and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, who was NU's second-leading receiver last year (17 catches, 188 yards, 11.1 ypc). So you can expect Lees to make big plays again, and open up chances for his fellow pass catchers.
Trey Pugh, TE
No longer a "superback," Pugh will now play the more formal tight end position in Bajakian's offense. And as such he'll be more involved in the offense. He only has five career catches for 38 yards during his time in Evanston, and Pugh has already proven himself as a blocker. He can add another layer to this offense if he can become more of a receiving threat, and Pugh will get his chances to do that.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.