As the Northwestern Wildcats gear up for their second trip to the B1G title game in the past three seasons, their recruiting class looks just about the same as it does each year.

Northwestern is not a program that is expected to get the biggest and best high school prospects from across the country. Pat Fitzgerald runs a developmental program and brings in players who fit the system; and it’s working. In the class of 2021 recruiting rankings, the Wildcats check in at No. 55, down from 47th in 2020.

With the Early Signing Period set to begin Wednesday, let’s take a closer look at Northwestern’s 2021 class:

By the numbers

B1G rank: 11
National rank: 55
5-stars: 0
4-stars: 2
3-stars: 12

Top player: Mac Uihlein, 4-star ILB

Mac Uihlein is one of two 4-star players in this class, along with offensive tackle Caleb Tiernan, and both of them committed to Northwestern in the same week. At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Uihlein is ranked as the 16th best inside linebacker across the country and is the third highest-rated prospect in the state coming out of Lake Forest, Illinois.

Uihlein had scholarship offers from a variety of schools in the B1G, including Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa, in addition to offers from Virginia and Louisville out of the ACC. He planned to visit more schools, but when the pandemic shut down in-person recruiting, he ultimately decided to commit to Northwestern on April 3.

Class strength: Linebacker

In addition to Uihlein, Northwestern was able to bring in outside linebacker Aidan Hubbard, a 3-star commit from Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio. He stands at 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds and had offers from plenty of Power 5 schools before committing to the Wildcats on May 2. It will take more than Uihlein and Hubbard to replace the production of this year’s defense, but the Wildcats continue to recruit the linebacker position very well.

Northwestern is quietly developing into a very good program for linebackers in recent years, not surprising for a team led by Fitzgerald, a former star linebacker for the Wildcats. Restocking depth at the position is key because the Wildcats’ defense is led by three senior linebackers, or “The Firm,” as Paddy Fisher, Blake Gallagher and Chris Bergin refer to themselves.

Class weakness: Defensive tackle

Northwestern has a relatively small class with just 14 commitments, and there are zero defensive tackles on the commitment list on 247Sports. In addition, the only prospect addressing the defensive line is Najee Story, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound 3-star recruit out of Ohio projected as a defensive end.

Three of the starters on the defensive line for Northwestern are seniors, and while there is an eligibility freeze across college football this fall, there is no telling if Jake Saunders, Joe Spivak or Earnest Brown IV will return to the program next season. It may not be an issue right away, but Northwestern certainly could’ve used some help on the defensive line in this cycle.

Grading the QB class

The Wildcats brought in one quarterback for the 2021 class, and it’s 3-star Brendan Sullivan, a pro-style QB from Davison, Michigan. He had plenty of scholarship offers from schools in the MAC; the only other Power 5 school to offer Sullivan was Indiana. Sullivan is ranked No. 28 at his position and is the 17th highest rated player from the state of Michigan.

Northwestern was burned with its quarterback recruiting situation in the 2020 class. The Wildcats received a commitment from 4-star QB Aidan Atkinson from Colorado, but about a year after getting him to commit, he was arrested for sexual assault in November 2019 and never signed with Northwestern. Instead, the Wildcats landed 3-star Carl Richardson, whose only other Power 5 offer came from Washington State.

Northwestern has utilized the transfer portal to fix its quarterback position, with mixed results. The Wildcats brought in Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson in 2019, and that did not work out. However, Northwestern went back to the portal for Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey, who has done enough to put the program in a position to play for a conference title.

Did they close the borders?

Northwestern largely remained in the Midwest when recruiting the 2021 class, with 10 of the 14 commits coming from the region. As far as inside of its own state, the Wildcats brought in just 2 players from Illinois, including Uihlein, who is ranked No. 3 in the state at inside linebacker. The only other Illinois product is Jackson Carsello, a 3-star recruit from Northbrook. He is a 6-foot-4, 270-pound offensive tackle who also had offers from B1G programs Indiana and Illinois. Carsello is ranked as the 25th best prospect in the state.

Illinois has plenty of talent to go around with seven 4-star players listed in the 2021 class, but the Wildcats are going to have a hard time bringing in top-level prospects, even if they reside near Evanston, with some of the school’s academic requirements and the competition for players inside the state and around the Midwest. The state’s top-rated player in the class is offensive tackle David Davidkov, who is committed to Iowa.

Final thought

Northwestern is coming off its best recruiting class in the history of the 247Sports Composite team rankings in 2020, when it ranked No. 47. While this class dropped a few slots as we get closer to the Early Signing Period, this is about where the Wildcats land pretty much every season. In the last 10 recruiting cycles, including 2021, the Wildcats were never better than 47th and never worse than 58th, so landing in this spot is continuing the consistency of the Northwestern football program.