Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 19, 2016

Northwestern had a big bounce-back season in 2015, posting 10 victories after consecutive 5-7 campaigns. A 10-win season preceded that 2013-14 slump. Pat Fitzgerald looks to keep the mojo going in Evanston and avoid a repeat of a backslide after a big season.

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The Wildcats will have plenty of building blocks in 2016. The offense will have players like QB Clayton Thorson, RB Justin Jackson, Ts Eric Olson and Black Hance, WR Austin Carr, SB Garrett Dickerson and WR/RB Solomon Vault, among others. The defense has back CB Matthew Harris, LBs Anthony Walker and Jaylen Prater and S Godwin Igwebuike, among others. K Jack Mitchell and P Hunter Niswander also return.

Players like WRs Miles Shuler and Christian Jones and offensive tackles Shane Mertz and Matt Frazier are gone. But here are the top five Wildcats to replace from 2015.

DE Deonte Gibson. He was a third-team All-Big Ten choice by the media and was honorable mention by the coaches. Gibson paced the squad with nine sacks and had 12.5 tackles for loss to go along with 39 tackles.

S Traveon Henry. He was part of a defense that ranked No. 4 in the Big Ten in scoring (18.5 ppg) and No. 4 overall (318.9 ypg). A hard-hitting defensive back, who played like a linebacker, Henry ranked third on the team in tackles with 74 stops and had six sacks and two interceptions.

DE Dean Lowry. Lowry helped NU rank No. 6 in the Big Ten in rushing defense (126.2 ypg). He was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection after ranking second on the team in tackles for loss with 13.5. Lowry also had 52 tackles and three sacks.

CB Nick VanHoose. He was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten pick and part of a defense that yielded a Big Ten-low five TD passes. A four-year starter, VanHoose was fifth in the Big Ten in passes defended with 15 and notched three picks.

SB Dan Vitale. The rugged Vitale was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten choice. He paced the club with 33 catches for 355 yards and four TDs. Vitale was the ultimate warrior and a leader.


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