Midseason review: Northwestern

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern Wildcats

Record: 4-3 (1-2 Big Ten)

As head coach Pat Fitzgerald has said several times this season, it hasn't been a yellow-brick road so far for Northwestern. Despite a favorable schedule and eight starters back from a defense that carried the team in 2008, the Wildcats have struggled to meet expectations. Standout defensive end Corey Wootton isn't the same player after returning from ACL surgery, and injuries have hit the defense in other key spots at inopportune times. The skill-position losses on offense are taking a toll, as Northwestern ranks 10th in the league in rushing (116.9 ypg), although senior quarterback Mike Kafka has been terrific for the most part. Northwestern might not be able to build on the momentum it carried over from 2008, but the Wildcats can still reach back-to-back bowls for just the second time in team history. They need to get the run game going in the second half and get a bit luckier with injuries to major contributors.

Offensive MVP, QB Mike Kafka -- Kafka has carried the offense with his precision passing, completing a league-best 67.8 percent of his throws. He ranks second in the Big Ten in both passing (250.7 ypg) and total offense (270.9 ypg), and he's second in quarterback rushing touchdowns with four. Honorable mentions go to wide receiver Zeke Markshausen and superback Drake Dunsmore.

Defensive MVP, CB Sherrick McManis -- Northwestern would probably be 5-2 had McManis been on the field Sept. 19 against Syracuse. The senior is a difference maker in the secondary, recording three interceptions and seven passes defended in only five games. Honorable mentions go to linebacker Quentin Davie and safeties Brad Phillips and Brian Peters.