Fitzgerald, Northwestern aiming high

Fitzgerald, Northwestern aiming high
July 26, 2012, 10:44 pm
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Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald unfurled a purple football jersey onto a small table to show off the new apparel to reporters.

The coach, his players and recruits are excited about the stylish Under Armour jerseys.

But the Wildcats have loftier goals.

Northwestern (6-7) qualified for its fourth consecutive bowl game last season, setting a school record.

But the Wildcats have lost all four of those games and are hoping to take the next step and expect championships, Fitzgerald said Thursday at Big Ten Football Media Day at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago.

The Wildcats want more. They want to win their division, win a Big Ten title and win a bowl game for the first time since 1949.

Number one, itd be great to get that monkey off our back, Fitzgerald said. Number two, itd be great to have something else talked about before going into the offseason. For our seniors, especially our fifth-year guys who would go to their fifth straight bowl game, which will be unprecedented in our program history ... it would be spectacular.

A key to that is the defense. Last season, the Wildcats allowed 27.7 points per game, 10th in the conference. Fitzgerald wants to see his team disrupt opposing quarterbacks. Northwestern made good strides in that area this spring, he said.

Stopping the run is always a priority of any football team, Fitzgerald said. Youve got to stop the run. It always starts up front. We gave up way too many explosion plays a year ago.

Its always going to start and end up front. I feel great about the young men we have coming back up there.

On offense, the Wildcats look to athletic quarterback Kain Colter, a junior who is the teams top returner in passing, rushing and receiving. His 115 yards passing and 57 yards rushing with two touchdowns led Northwestern to an upset of Nebraska last season.

Im extremely confident in Kain as a quarterback, Fitzgerald said. Hes got a lot of experience. We got an opportunity to see his skill set a year ago, especially when you looked at the Nebraska game. Obviously, he did some very special things in that game, but also every game.

Coinciding with Thursdays media bonanza, Northwestern unveiled its new uniforms, which arrived this week. Fitzgerald noted the light fabric and the broad, black stripe wrapping across the jersey.

Our players are excited about it, he said. Ive gotten a lot of texts and emails from fans. Our recruits are just incredibly excited.

The Wildcats will tackle an imposing schedule, opening at Syracuse on Sept. 1, followed by Vanderbilt and Boston College.

As for the leading topic of the day -- the Penn State scandal and other schools recruiting its players -- Fitzgerald said Northwestern will refrain from reaching out to Nittany Lions players. Fitzgerald said his roster is already set. He called the scandal an incredible failure in leadership.

Were focused on our team, Fitzgerald said.