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Northwestern Football: 5 Newcomers to Watch for the Wildcats

Northwestern Football: Wildcats' 2020 Schedule Analysis

The Wildcats hope some new faces on the roster and coaching staff can help them bounce back after a disappointing 2021 season

After making their second-ever Big Ten Championship Game appearance in 2020, the Northwestern Wildcats had similar expectations for 2021. But after beginning the season with an embarrassing home loss to Michigan State, things only got worse from there.

Another revolving door at quarterback (four to be exact), inconsistency on the offensive line (12th in the Big Ten with 29 sacks allowed), and the inability to stop teams on defense (second to last in total defense), with a few injuries sprinkled in gave NU it's second losing campaign in three seasons. The Wildcats wound up with a 3-9 record.

A fresh recruiting class, along with some coaching staff changes, typically gives teams renewed hope heading into a new season. Although wholesale changes were not required this time, the Wildcats did insert some new blood into the program as they look to bounce back in 2022. Here are five new arrivals to Evanston that could help the Wildcats return to their winning ways.

Jack Lausch, QB

With the exception of Peyton Ramsey in 2020, the quarterback position at Northwestern has been a revolving door since Clayton Thorson graduated. In fact, six players besides Ramsey — Ryan Hilinski, Hunter Johnson, T.J. Green, Andrew Marty, Aidan Smith, and Carl Richardson — have taken snaps under center since Thorson's departure. And collectively, they've combined to throw for just 3,532 yards and 19 touchdowns when you put the numbers from 2019 and '21 together.

The hope is that Lausch, a local product out of Chicago's Brother Rice High School, can be the next long-term starter for the Wildcats. During his senior year, Lausch established himself as a dual-threat signal-caller who posted 2,447 passing yards, 1,084 rushing yards and accounted for 41 total touchdowns.

His dual-threat capabilities should serve coordinator Mike Bajakian's offense well. It's unknown if Lausch will see playing time right away with Hilinski likely to start but given the lack of production Northwestern has gotten from the quarterback position, Lausch should get plenty of opportunities to prove himself when he arrives on campus.

Nick Herzog, OL

The No. 4-ranked recruit from the state of Kansas, Herzog passed up offers from Big Ten West rival Iowa as well as Kansas and Kansas State to sign with Northwestern. The Wildcats' poor offensive line play was a big problem in 2021, so Herzog could earn a spot in the rotation right away.

Braden Turner, CB

Hailing from Mobile, Alabama, Turner is set to join a secondary that has a big hole to fill with former All-American safety Brandon Joseph transferring to Notre Dame. That's not to say that Turner will be able to fill Joseph's big shoes, but it does mean there could be an opportunity for him to contribute right away. Turner also could earn playing time due to his ability to return kicks and punts as well. He chose the Wildcats over offers from Kentucky, Colorado, Army, and Georgia State.

Jason Reynolds Jr., LB

A Georgia native, Reynolds also played fullback and tight end in high school and his versatility could help him see playing time early. As a senior, Reynolds was credited with 174 tackles, six sacks, two interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. He joins a defense that's in a state of transition after losing several key pieces and has a chance to be the next productive linebacker that Northwestern develops. Reynolds turned down offers from Air Force, Appalachian State, Colgate, and Dartmouth to join the Wildcats.

Ryan Smith, cornerbacks coach

Smith will be tasked with improving a Northwestern secondary that by and large held its own despite being hung out to dry often by an ineffective pass rush and other defensive shortcomings. Smith comes to Evanston after spending the past two seasons at Virginia Tech in a similar role, including defensive pass game coordinator in 2021. While with the Hokies, Smith coached current Tennessee Titans cornerback Caleb Farley, the 22nd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, as well as Jermaine Waller, an All-ACC selection who should hear his name called during this year's draft.

— Written by Gabe Salgado, who 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 can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.