This decade (2000-2009) was quite an interesting time for the Northwestern offense. It began in 2000, with spread offense being implemented by head coach Randy Walker and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. Mike Dunbar would come in as offensive coordinator after Wilson left for Oklahoma, and lead NU to even more gaudy stats, particularly in the 2005 season.
There are a slew of big offensive playmakers to sort through to make the list that will be discussed below. Needless to say, this has been the most fruitful period in Northwestern history on the offensive side of the football, with numerous players from this decade littering the Wildcat record books.
Credit Walker for taking the plunge by implementing the spread at Northwestern, which was a huge reason behind the Big Ten co-Championship in 2000 and the 61 wins this decade (with one more game to go).
It will likely be difficult to replicate the offensive output of this decade, but we'll see how NU fares, now that the 'Cats have established a reliable defense to go along with an explosive offense.
Northwestern's defense didn't fare all that well for most of the decade (the all-decade defense will be revealed in a following article), which led to some rough years (2001-2002, and 2004, in particular), especially when the offense couldn't make up for all of the opponents' scoring (unlike 2005 when NU resorted to its offense to bail out a defense that ranked close to the bottom in many statistical categories).
Nevertheless, it's great to look back and relive the great offensive performances we saw from the Wildcats this decade.
Now on to the all-decade team.
Notes: Only statistics from this decade (2000-2009) are included, so any statistics earned prior to 2000 are not included. Since this is being published prior to the 2009 bowl game, it does not include bowl game numbers. Bowl game numbers from other years are included in the statistics. Quarterback rushing statistics include sack numbers per NCAA statistics policy.
Brett Basanez 2002-05 (47 games, Passing: 913-for-1584, 57.6% completion rate, 10,580 yards, 44 TD, 36 INT; Rushing: 391 attempts, 883 yards, 18 TD)
Basanez was at the helm for one of the most consistently successful periods in Northwestern football, 2003-05, when NU went to two bowl games and just missed a third, going 6-6 in 2004. He is on top of the NU record books for most passing categories (yards, completions, attempts, and touchdowns, which he shares with Len Williams) and led a prolific spread offensive attack that was particularly powerful in 2005, the year NU set school records in total offense and passing yards.
He had some competition from Kustok and Bacher, but Basanez's longevity (essentially four years as the NU starter) and the team's success over most of that span give him the edge. One can definitely argue for Kustok, who was essentially a one-man show in 2001, but his win total doesn't match up to Basanez's.
The one constant across this decade is that NU has had quarterbacks who have done an excellent job running the spread offense—Kustok, Basanez, Bacher, and Mike Kafka in 2009. Those four combined for 26,713 passing yards, 141 passing touchdowns, and 115 rushing touchdowns this decade, which are some rather prolific numbers and easily the highest offensive output in school history over such a time span.
Zak Kustok 2000-01 (23 games, Passing: 437-for-767, 57.0% completion rate, 5,081 yards, 39 TD, 17 INT; Rushing: 341 attempts, 402 yards, 20 TD)
CJ Bacher 2005-08 (34 games, Passing: 664-for-1105, 66.0% completion rate , 7,319 yards, 43 TD, 43 INT; Rushing: 198 attempts, 266 yards, 8 TD)
Damien Anderson 2000-01 (20 games, Rushing: 433 attempts, 2,820 yards, 31 TD, 6.5 yards per carry; Receiving: 32 receptions, 239 yards, 0 TD)
Having played less than two full seasons this decade, it may seem tough to put him on the all-decade squad over a guy like Tyrell Sutton, who started for four years, but Anderson showed everyone how effective the ground game could be out of the spread. He had a huge six and a half yards per carry and holds the following NU records—career rushing TDs, career rushing yards, single season rushing yards, and single season rushing TDs. His speed and toughness were a huge reason behind NU's success in the 2000 season.
It's amazing to look back at the string of runners NU had this decade that thrived in the spread—Anderson, Wright, Herron, and Sutton. The combination of Wright and Herron was rather formidable, with the pinnacle coming in 2003 against Illinois where they combined for 414 yards on the ground. And despite being hampered with injuries in his later years and a relatively ineffective offense in 2003, Sutton ranks second on the all-time rushing list.
Jason Wright 2000-03(46 games, Rushing: 489 attempts, 2,625 yards, 32 TD, 5.4 yards per carry; Receiving: 54 receptions, 577 yards, 2 TD)
Noah Herron 2001-04 (45 games, Rushing: 462 attempts, 2,524 yards, 26 TD, 5.5 yards per carry; Receiving: 72 receptions, 781 yards, 2 TD)
Tyrell Sutton 2005-08 (40 games, Rushing: 731 attempts, 3.886 yards, 31 TD, 5.3 yards per carry; Receiving: 149 receptions, 1,244 yards, 6 TD)
Wide Receivers (4)
Kunle Patrick, 2000-03 (48 games, Receiving: 171 receptions, 1,873 yards, 11.0 yards per reception, 8 TD)
Mark Philmore, 2002-05 (40 games, Receiving: 163 receptions, 1,768 yards, 10.8 yards per reception, 8 TD)
Ross Lane 2005-08 (49 games, Receiving: 163 receptions, 2,068 yards, 12.7 yards per reception, 13 TD)
Eric Peterman 2005-08 (49 games, Receiving: 160 receptions, 2,011 yards, 12.6 yards per reception, 12 TD)
Again, another tough position to pick with a plethora of receivers with gaudy stats thanks to the NU spread attack. I picked those who stand out as multi-year starters who were "go-to," reliable, wide receivers. Unfortunately, that came at the expense of some guys who were great receivers in their own right but who started playing prior to the turn of the decade (and, therefore, prior to the implementation of the spread at Northwestern).
Patrick was a go-to guy for both Kustok and Basanez. Philmore racked up a ton of stats, particularly in 2005 when NU put up huge offensive numbers. Lane broke out as a freshman in 2005, catching the game winning ball against Iowa, and continued that pace and ended up ranked third in all-time receiving yards. Finally, Peterman proved to be a solid QB-turned-WR, ranks seventh on NU's all-time receptions list, and proved to be a versatile threat all over the field.
Shaun Herbert 2003-06 (44 games, Receiving: 168 receptions, 1,926 yards, 11.5 yards per reception, 9 TD)
Jon Schweighardt 2000-02 (35 games, Receiving: 136 receptions, 1,536 yards, 11.3 yards per reception, 8 TD)
Sam Simmons 2000-01 (22 games, Receiving: 88 receptions, 1,305 yards, 14.8 yards per reception, 12 TD)
Offensive Line (5)
Zach Strief (RT) 2002-05 (40 career starts, 2005 All-American, 2004 & 2005 second team all-conference, 2003 honorable mention all-conference)
Matt Ulrich (RG) 2001-04 (37 career starts, 2004 NU co-captain)
Austin King (C) 2000-02 (43 career starts, 2000 & 2002 honorable mention all-conference, 2001 & 2002 academic all-conference)
Lance Clelland (LG) 2000-01 (29 career starts, preseason all-conference in 2001)
Leon Brockmeier (LT) 2000-01 (35 career starts, second team all-conference in 2000, preseason all-conference in 2001)
Probably the toughest position to evaluate is the offensive line, due to the complete lack of statistics for a basis of comparison. The Wildcats have featured some pretty good offensive line play and those linemen have been rewarded with at least a look or even significant playing time at the next level.
I went a little heavy on linemen from the beginning of the decade because those 2000 and 2001 teams put up huge offensive numbers and were extremely balanced, both throwing and running the ball very effectively. It's not an accident that Anderson had such a high yards per carry average, and the middle and right side of that line (King, Clelland, and Brockmeier) are featured here.
NU continued to run the ball well through the 2005 season and Basanez had time to throw or room to run it himself thanks to a couple of big guys—Ulrich and Strief. Also, Strief earned All-American honors, so it was tough to deny him a spot on the all-decade team.
It was hard to keep a few guys out—Rees, Thiry, and Essex. Rees played well enough to anchor center during his entire time at NU. Thiry and Essex played well at the important left tackle spot, with Essex moving on to play guard at the next level.
Overall, the offensive line is a big reason that NU's offense has fared so well this decade and shouldn't be overlooked when reminiscing on the 2000s.
Trevor Rees (C) 2003-04 & 2006-07 (44 career starts, 2007 honorable mention all-conference, 2003 freshman All-American)
Dylan Thiry (LT) 2004-07 (34 career starts, 2007 preseason all-conference)
Trai Essex (LT) 2001-04 (37 career starts, 2003 all-bowl team)