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Big Ten Football Preview 2015: Northwestern's season outlook

Justin Jackson leads Northwestern entering 2015 season

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

For the second consecutive year, Northwestern finished with a 5-7 record.

But unlike 2013, last season featured wins against big foes in Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin.

So where does Northwestern go from here? We examine the Wildcats in our season outlook.

Jackson Time

Remember Justin Jackson's name. You'll hear it a lot this year.

Northwestern's quarterback position is up in the air, but one thing is for certain: Jackson will carry the load at running back.

Jackson totaled 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman last season. He finished fourth among Power Five school rookies in all purpose yards per game last season (98.9).

Jackson could be even better, perhaps becoming one of the top backs in the Big Ten, behind an offensive line that retains three starters (Matt Frazier, Eric Olson and Geoff Mogus)

Key returnees

Besides Jackson and Northwestern's three returning starters on the offensive line, several productive players are on the Wildcats' roster.

Fifth-year senior Cameron Dickerson returns at wide receiver after making seven starts in 2014. He had 318 reception yards and a touchdown, and should be a solid target for whomever starts at quarterback.

Led by seniors Traveon Henry and Nick VanHoose, four defensive backs, all with starting experience in 2014, return.

Henry totaled 73 tackles last season while VanHoose had 59 tackles and two interceptions.

Junior Matthew Harris had 70 tackles and started all 12 of Northwestern's games in 2014. Godwin Igwebuike made five starts and compiled 51 tackles and three interceptions at safety.

Anthony Walker started seven games as a redshirt freshman last season, totaling 51 tackles (30 for losses) and two interceptions (one pick six). He should be a solid asset at linebacker in 2015.

To-do list

It's pretty obvious; Northwestern has to find a quarterback. Not a fantastic one, but a competent signal caller that can hand the ball to Jackson and compliment his abilities.

The Wildcats should rely on the run game in 2015. With three returning starters on the offensive line and Jackson, the team is built for just that.

At quick glance, the team was in the middle of the pack in most stat categories. Northwestern was not awful last season; it beat three bowl eligible teams. But losing winnable games definitely hurt.

The schedule

Sept. 5 vs. Stanford
Sept. 12 vs. Eastern Illinois
Sept. 19 at Duke
Sept. 26 vs. Ball State
Oct. 3 vs. Minnesota
Oct. 10 at Michigan
Oct. 17 vs. Iowa (Homecoming)
Oct. 24 at Nebraska
Nov. 7 vs. Penn State
Nov. 14 vs. Purdue
Nov. 21 at Wisconsin
Nov. 28 at Illinois

Three years ago, Northwestern won its first bowl game since the 1940s. The Wildcats have a shot to return to a bowl game in 2015 after a pair of five-win seasons. But they'll have to ride the Justin Jackson train to do so.

Wins: Eastern Illinois, Ball State, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois

Losses: Stanford, Duke, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin

Toss up: Minnesota, Nebraska