Summer checklist: Northwestern Wildcats

The dreaded middle of summer has arrived, which means spring practice is nearly three months in the rear view but the start of preseason camps nationally remains nearly a month away. This week, as we look forward to August, it’s time to identify two key ways for each Big Ten team to maximize the final weeks of this offseason.

Next up: Northwestern

Get closer to deciding the starting quarterback: Officially, it's still a three-man race between senior Zack Oliver, sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson. Unofficially, it sure looks as if it's between Alviti and Thorson. The sooner one player can separate himself here, the better off the Wildcats will be. Northwestern doesn't have the luxury of an Illinois or Iowa by playing a cupcake in Week 1. No, it's immediately sink or swim with the Stanford Cardinal looming as the opening opponent. Alviti played in four games last season but didn't see much time by going 2-of-4 for exactly zero yards; Thorson redshirted and hasn't had actual game experience since high school. This summer is obviously important in both players' progression, and it sure seems as if Thorson has the higher ceiling. Still, if any quarterback can step up here, it'd be a big positive.

Strengthen up the interior of the defense: This unit isn't at all that deep so, first on the agenda is simply staying healthy. DTs Sean McEvilly (foot) and Greg Kuhar (knee) missed time in the spring due to injuries -- which, in part, forced starting defensive ends Deonte Gibson and Dean Lowry to take some snaps inside. The Wildcats need someone who can stop the run here, because they struggled at times last season. Overall, Northwestern ranked No. 70 nationally by allowing 169.9 rushing yards per game -- but it also allowed 200 or more yards on six occasions. At 310 pounds, Kuhar could play a key role in reversing those numbers. But, first, he needs to put in a strong summer.