Venric Mark’s Fifth Year Gives Northwestern Hope
There's probably no single factor that totally explains Northwestern's regression from 10 wins in 2012 to just five in 2013, but the absence of Venric Mark appeared to be a major one. In 2012, he provided 2,166 all-purpose yards for the Wildcats and 15 touchdowns. The NCAA has granted Mark an additional year of eligibility which could be the difference between another bowl-less holiday season and winning six or more games.
Mark's presence in 2012 was conservatively worth at least two wins. He returned a punt for a score against Syracuse and caught a pass for a touchdown in a game that the Wildcats won by just a point. He had two rushing touchdowns against Minnesota in a game Northwestern won by eight. While the math is less clear in other outings, he was a major part of the offense and special teams for the entire season.
In 2013, Northwestern really struggled without Mark. He appeared in the season opening win at Cal. He also produced over 100 yards from scrimmage in a closer-than-the-final-score outing against Ohio State. But the conference season was a disaster. The Wildcats went just 1-7 with their lone conference win coming against Illinois.
The 2014 schedule won't be easy. They open with home dates against Cal and Northern Illinois and later travel to Notre Dame. They also travel to Penn State, Iowa, and Minnesota. Their home conference slate includes Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan. They have to find 3 wins in addition to beating Western Illinois, Purdue, and Illinois. It's hard to imagine that without a playmaker like Mark, especially now that dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter has graduated.
Mark alone doesn't guarantee six or more wins for the Wildcats, but certainly adding a dynamic playmaker to the mix won't hurt.