After a 3-9 campaign in 2021, Northwestern is looking for another quick turnaround heading into 2022.

This past season for the Wildcats never really got off the ground. The offense was stagnant and ineffective with the defense gashed consistently by quality opponents.

With 2 B1G West titles in the past 4 years, Pat Fitzgerald has shown he can turn things around in short order. However, if the Wildcats are going to rebound in a big way, these 5 players will need to show they can be the face of the program in 2022.

QB Ryan Hilinski

One thing is certain: the Wildcats need stability at QB. After a revolving door at the position in 2021, it’s up to the former South Carolina transfer to produce like the player he was as a freshman in 2019. During the 2021 campaign, Hilinski appeared in 9 games while completing 54% of his passes. He led the Wildcats with 978 yards but had just 3 touchdowns against 4 interceptions. If Northwestern hops to compete in the B1G West – or even get to a bowl game in 2022 – Hilinski must improve on those numbers and bring stability to the offensive side of the ball.

RB Evan Hull

The 2021 season was supposed to be a breakout year for Cam Porter. After ending the 2020 season on a roll, Porter was likely RB1 heading into last season before an injury ended his campaign. Hull responded with a 1,000-yard campaign and averaged 5.1 YPC with 7 touchdowns on the ground. He had 4 100-yard games last season including a 200-yard outing vs. Ohio. Hull will need to at least replicate that performance in 2022 for the Wildcats to have sustained success.

DL Adetomiwa Adebawore

On the defensive side of the ball, Northwestern will try to lean on Adebawore after a breakout season in 2021. During his junior campaign, Adebawore led the Wildcats in TFL (8.5) and sacks (4.5) and was one of the team’s most consistent contributors along the frontline. He finished the season with 36 total tackles, 3 passes defended, an interception and 2 forced fumbles. Now entering his 4th season with the program, the former 3-star recruit has a great chance to post a fantastic season which would help take some of the pressure off the backend of the defense that lost Brandon Joseph to the transfer portal.

DB Coco Azema

Speaking of the backend of the defense, Azema stands poised to have a great shot to anchor a Northwestern defense following the departure of Brandon Joseph to Notre Dame. During his redshirt sophomore season, Azema finished 4th on the team with 72 tackles and had 4 passes defended with 2 forced fumbles. Trying to replace Joseph’s playmaking ability is likely futile, but Azema’s growth will help make up for Joseph’s absence in some way. An even bigger season from Azema would be crucial.

LB Bryce Gallagher

A linebacker had to make this list for Northwestern, right? A former 3-star prospect via the class of 2019, Gallagher finally stepped into his own during the 2021 campaign. He finished second on the team with 90 tackles after posting a total of 6 tackles combined over his first 2 seasons with the program. Gallagher added 5.5 TFL and a sack last season. Now with no Paddy Fisher, Blake Gallagher or Chris Bergin, it’s up to Bryce Gallagher to lead the linebacker unit of the Wildcats which is traditionally a strength of the program. If he can take another step forward in 2022, he has a chance to put up a truly special season for Northwestern.