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Big Ten team dealing with 4 player opt-outs

Northwestern is barely a week from joining its Big Ten Conference peers in opening the league's long-delayed, abbreviated eight-game regular season.

The Wildcats on Friday evening announced they'll be entering the season without a quartet of would-be contributors.

Per its release, “Northwestern announced that defensive lineman Samdup Miller, quarterback Aidan Smith, safety Travis Whillock and tight end Jason Whittaker have elected not to participate during the 2020 football season.” The school removed all four players' biographies from the team's online roster.

The Wildcats are scheduled to open their season Oct. 24 against visiting Maryland in the Terps' first-ever trip to Evanston, Ill.

“We completely support the decision each young man made during the spring and summer as they evaluated their personal circumstances,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said in the school's release. “All four Wildcats have been outstanding teammates throughout their time in our program.

“Nothing about the support we promised their families during recruitment will waver, with the full complement of scholarship, academic, sports medicine and professional development resources available.”

Miller, a defensive end, has 35 career starts for the Wildcats, including eight games a year ago in which he amassed 29 total tackles that included 2.5 tackles for losses, two quarterback hurries and broke up a pass. Whillock appeared in all 12 Wildcats' games last season and posted the fourth-most tackles on the team from his safety position with 78; he also notched three TFLS, forced two fumbles and recovered another one.

Northwestern is coming off a 3-9 2019 campaign after posting a combined 19 wins during the 2017-18 seasons, including an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State in 2018.