Our week-long review of the 2014 season for each Big Ten program rolls on with the Northwestern Wildcats.
Overview: No team in the Big Ten had as many zeniths and nadirs as Northwestern during the 2014 season. The Wildcats beat two ranked opponents and still managed to miss a bowl game. The season got off to an embarrassing start when the offense, in a 24-7 win, was outgained by Western Illinois after losses to Cal and Northern Illinois. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald challenged his players' toughness and got a three-game winning streak, capped by knocking off West Division champ Wisconsin. Fitzgerald's team also upset heavily-favored Notre Dame in South Bend with an entertaining 43-40 overtime victory. In between those wins, Northwestern's offense failed to reach 20 points in any of its four consecutive losses to Big Ten opponents. Some talented freshmen on both sides of the ball provided reasons for optimism, but the season ended on another low note by losing to in-state rival Illinois with a bowl trip on the line for both teams.
Offensive MVP: Of the group of rookies who stepped into big roles this season in Evanston, Illinois, running back Justin Jackson was easily the most impressive. Jackson became the second freshman at Northwestern to top 1,000 yards and finished the season with 1,187 and a team-high 10 touchdowns. He also led the offense in putting up 43 points at Notre Dame. His 149 rushing yards in that game were the most the Irish gave up to any player this season.
Defensive MVP: Safety and co-captain Ibraheim Campbell coordinated the Wildcats' secondary in his fourth and final season as a starter. His three interceptions this season brought his career total to 11, which is third all-time at Northwestern. He also tied for the Big Ten lead in forced fumbles this year with four. One of those gave the offense a chance to tie Notre Dame in the final 90 seconds of the fourth quarter. He ended the season with 54 tackles despite missing four games due to an injury in the middle of the season. The Wildcats went 1-3 during that stretch.