Football: Fitzgerald doesn’t sweat national buzz at Big Ten media day

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Daily file photo by Mackenzie McCluer

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald watches from the sideline during a game last season. On Wednesday, he told reporters he is not worried about living up to the growing expectations for the Wildcats this season.

Josh Walfish, Summer Reporter

Newfound national attention is the last thing on Pat Fitzgerald’s mind this season.

As the rest of the Big Ten visited Chicago for the conference’s annual media day, the Northwestern coach was asked this morning about growing pressure on the Wildcats to have a banner season. After winning 10 games and the Gator Bowl, NU finished its 2012 season in the top 20.

With his normal charm, Fitzgerald told reporters he is more concerned with what’s happening inside the locker room, not the buzz outside of it.

“I’m happy to see that everyone’s taking notice that we’re doing OK,” Fitzgerald said. “But we’re far from where we’re going to be. We want to put that trophy in our case just like the other 11 … head coaches who are going to visit after me.”

“So it’s not unique to us,” he added. “It’s not any different than anyone else in our league, but we’ve never shied away from stating that as our goal.”

Despite Fitzgerald’s high hopes, few prognosticators have been bold enough to pick the Cats to go to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. The mentality suits quarterback Kain Colter, who believes NU is still an underdog.

Colter said he hates his team being the favorite and pointed to a recent trend in school history: The Cats’ Gator Bowl victory was their first bowl win while ranked by the Associated Press since 2001. He admitted NU is often underestimated by nature but said the team will need to deal with outside expectations if it wants to get to the next level.

“We love playing on the road in big venues when it’s us against the world,” Colter said. “As we start our upwards rise, that’s something that we’re going to have to start dealing with. But it’s really about how you prepare. You have to prepare the same way every game whether you’re favored by 50 or down by 50.”

If NU is going to continue its momentum, Colter said the team has to stay hungry. He compared the Cats’ state of mind to not having enough food in a pantry, a reference to the team’s motto, “Everybody eats.”

“The biggest thing is don’t get satisfied,” Colter said. “We had a pretty good year last year. We still had a lot of goals we didn’t accomplish, so we still have a lot of motivation.”

Summer reporter Josh Walfish can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JoshWalfish.

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