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As the accomplishments began to pile up in 2012 for Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern Wildcats, the head coach knew what was next: an upcoming season full of expectations. Ten wins, a pair of victories over SEC teams and the school's first bowl win in decades are in the rear-view mirror, and while Fitzgerald knows he'll have a talented group entering the 2013 season, those expectations to continue said success -- and the unknown of whether or not it will happen -- is keeping his group motivated.
"To have that kind of success, to take a next step as a program, the guys were really focused on the task at hand. And that was getting back to ground zero with what we do as a program in the offseason," Fitzgerald told CSN Chicago. "So I thought we had really good offseason, workouts in the winter that led us into a solid spring and now we'll find out here in a couple weeks what kind of shape we're in."
A ten-win season -- including five wins in the Big Ten -- is nothing to scoff at, but Fitzgerald and his team know those win totals and accomplishments were never the end goal. Fitzgerald said last year's seniors had the motivation to continue building up a program that hadn't seen a Big Ten championship in nearly two decades.
"That's the way that this year's senior class has approaching things, that we're nowhere [near] where we want to be," he said. "Are we proud that we won the Gator Bowl? Absolutely. Are we proud that we won 10 games? Absolutely. But this is a new team, it's a new beginning and we're only gonna be as successful as our chemistry and the way that we're able to work with each other."
Fitzgerald has a senior-laden group -- notably quarterback Kain Colter and linebacker Damien Proby -- to lean on, and he's also excited about the depth that past successes have helped bring in via the recruiting route.
"This is probably the deepest team that we've gone into training camp with, from talent in all five classes that we believe we can win with," he said, "so through that we've got great competition. Internally our guys know every job is open to competition."
Many of those players were on the last three teams that won 23 regular-season games and went to Bowl games in each, but as has been the manta each season under Fitzgerald, all the numbers reset as soon as this team took the field.
"It's kind of like the unknown. We walked out of spring ball feeling really confident and about where we're at as a program," he said, "but hopefully we've made the necessary steps. So our focus right now really is on us.
The challenge isn't whether or not you can win 10 games; it's whether or not you can take the next step after you win 10 games, and to understand just how hard you have to work, and the challenge it is to be able to put together your formula, put the new pieces of the puzzle together...and then really take the necessary steps to mature as a team, so I think we're in a really positive place."
Click on the video above to watch Fitzgerald's entire interview from SportsNet Central.