A whopping nine Northwestern juniors won't be coming back for their senior years, including former starting QB Evan Watkins and superback Tim Riley, who caught a touchdown last week against Michigan State.
Nine players listed as juniors will be among the 24 seniors honored on senior day Saturday, meaning they're leaving Northwestern football rather than sticking around for a redshirt senior season.
That list: Superbacks Evan Watkins, Tim Riley, and Brian Smith, linebackers Roderick Goodlow and Will Studlien, defensive linemen Anthony Battle and Davon Custis, offensive lineman Taylor Paxton, and wide receiver Drew Moulton.
Watkins is probably the most prominent name, as he used to be NU's starting quarterback. We'll always have Wrigley, Evan and Fake Evan. I guess we'll never see him play tight end, as so many of us had hoped - his only action senior year was taking some victory formation snaps against Vanderbilt, I think. I'm a bit surprised to see Tim Riley go - the linebacker-turned-fullback had actually contributed positively this year, taking a lot of snaps in goal line packages and even catching his second career touchdown Saturday against Michigan State. Moulton had been talked about as a speedy receiver, but with the depth at that position it's not surprising he's been out of the rotation.
The rest of the guys have pretty much been passed over by younger players at their position and don't really have any role on the team. Riley is the only one on the two-deep for Illinois, and Goodlow is the only one to have recorded any statistics on the season, although he's been out with an injury that I guess we can now call "career-ending". Battle had taken some snaps earlier in the season as a tight end in goal line and X-and-short scenarios, but Paul Jorgensen has been doing that of late.
Nine is a pretty high number of players to decide to leave early: normally, there's typically a few, but this is more than that. Last year, I think only Alex Daniel opted out of his senior year. All in all, this is half of the 18-recruit 2009 class. When you add the fact that Arby Fields and Cooper Gerami had already transferred out of the program and John Plasencia had to end his career due to injury, it was a pretty disappointing class, with only six players even having a chance of playing their senior season for Northwestern.
The silver lining is that Northwestern will have a bunch of extra scholarships available for walk-ons, and the high amount of guys leaving early means everybody's graduating on time. I'm curious to see if any guys opt to play a graduate season at another school, which is a pretty popular fad now.