The hype heading into the 2013 season in Evanston was reaching incredible heights. Due to injuries to key players throughout the year, the plans for a potential Rose Bowl run were eventually ruined which lead to a lackluster 5-7 record with only one conference win.
The major pull for the hype machine a year ago was that the Wildcats returned a bulk of their experienced roster from the year before. It is looking like 2014 is much of the same as far as returning starters go.
If the injury bug can stay away from Northwestern in 2014, these three players will be key to improving their record from last season.
Venric Mark - Running Back
Venric Mark surprised a lot of people by electing to return for his senior year rather than entering the NFL Draft. With the experienced senior ready to lead the offense, things didn't exactly go as planned. Mark played in only three games in 2013 due to injury. He suffered a "lower body" injury during the non-conference slate only to return against Wisconsin where he broke his ankle in the first quarter.
Mark applied for, and was granted, a medical hardship waiver by the NCAA allowing him to return to Northwestern for a fifth year.
Don't let the broken ankle rehab fool you, Mark is still a player to be feared on offense.
2012 was a year to remember for Mark, he was named an All-American as a kick returner and also did significant damage on the ground during his junior year. He rushed 226 times for 1366-yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. He also returned two punts for touchdowns and netted 696 all-purpose kick return yards.
If Mark can return to his 2012 form, then he will be a dangerous addition to the Northwestern squad this season.
Trevor Siemian - Quarterback
Officially named the Wildcats' starting quarterback in February, Siemian is ready to take over a full-time workload now that former quarterback Kain Colter has graduated and will not demand a good portion of the offensive snaps.
The biggest question remains for Siemian is if he is ready to assume the role as "the guy" on the Wildcats offense.
Siemian did not have an overwhelmingly great 2013 season, as he passed for over 2100-yards with 11 touchdowns and also throwing nine interceptions. Those numbers should be expected to increase during the 2014 season if he remains the starting quarterback during the season. It all depends on how long a leash he is given.
However, I expect Siemian to be a difference maker on offense this year. It also helps to have a healthy Mark back as well.
Ibraheim Campbell - Safety
Arguably the leader of the Wildcat defense, Campbell is looking to turn a decent year statistically into a great year for the defensive unit as a whole. Playing in almost every game since 2011, Campbell has become a relied upon source for the defensive backfield. He is expected to make more of a significant impact during his last season on campus.
Campbell has a nose for the ball as he intercepted four passes during the 2013 campaign, bringing his career total up to eight. He is also a sure tackler throughout career, recording over 260 total tackles -- 150 of them being of the solo variety.
In order to have a successful defense, Northwestern is going to rely on Campbell to take on a leadership role on the defense in order to turn things around in 2014.