Venric Mark could give Wildcats a 2014 jolt

Venric Mark's application for a medical hardship waiver and extra year of eligibility should have been a mere formality, but there are never any guarantees with these things.

So Northwestern and Mark can breathe a sigh of relief after Tuesday's news that Mark will indeed be allowed to return in 2014 for his fifth season. He basically gets a do-over on his injury-riddled senior season, in which he played in only three games because of various ailments.

Mark played as a true freshman and never took a redshirt year. He broke his ankle on Oct. 12 vs. Wisconsin and did not play again, appearing in just 25 percent of the Wildcats' games. With that, he was a near-perfect candidate for this waiver.

It's great news for both him and Northwestern. The Wildcats have other promising running backs, including Treyvon Green and Stephen Buckley, but Mark brings an explosiveness that's hard to replicate. He's also one of the best kick returners in the game when healthy. Northwestern really missed his playmaking abilities during a disappointing 5-7 campaign that included several close losses.

Mark probably won't play in the same kind of option attack in 2014 with Kain Colter moving on, but he still gives the offense a big-time jolt. After a series of injuries, bad bounces and just plain bad mojo, the Wildcats look like a safe bet as a major rebound candidate next season and a potentially serious contender for the 2014 West Division title.

And Mark, who ran for more than 1,300 yards in 2012, adds to a deep and talented stable of Big Ten running backs next season, joining Ameer Abdullah, Melvin Gordon, David Cobb, Jeremy Langford and Zach Zwinak among those with at least one 1,000-yard season under their belts.