Fitzgerald, Wildcats prepare to move forward at Big Ten Media Days

Zack Moore, Reporter

The Big Ten football season began unofficially Monday with 2014 Big Ten Media Days.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was the first of 14 coaches to speak at Media Days.

“First of all, we’re going to reestablish who we are this year,” he said. “We’re going to get back to what we do and how we do things, and that starts and ends in our locker room.”

Fitzgerald also welcomed University of Maryland and Rutgers University to the Big Ten. The schools, which joined the conference July 1, bring the total number of universities in the Big Ten to 14.

Additionally, 2014 will be the first year of the college playoff system and the end of the Bowl Championship Series era. This change will put a greater emphasis on the start of the season.

Fitzgerald talked about the opportunities presented by the new system.

“Get a few non-conference wins and two to three Big Ten wins, then an unpopular Northwestern in the preseason is now amongst the initial rankings when the poll is set week six,” he said.

The Wildcats got off to a fast start in 2013 with a solid 4-0 record before losing in a close game to Ohio State University. The Cats went on to lose seven straight games before beating University of Illinois in the final game of the season.

The win over the Fighting Illini ushered in the Trevor Siemian era. The then-junior quarterback’s spectacular performance (414 yards, four touchdowns) was a glimmer of hope of what he will be able to accomplish this season.

Siemian became the leader of the Wildcats during an-off season filled with distractions surrounding NU’s unionization case. With the vote results looming over the program, Siemian said the Cats have not taken their eyes off of the common goal.

“My personal goals are in alignment with our team goals, and that is to win the West Division and a Big Ten Championship,” Siemian said.

Safety Ibraheim Campbell and linebacker Collin Ellis echoed that ambition when looking forward to the upcoming season.

Campbell said he spent the off-season in the film room preparing to address some of the issues on the defensive side.

“I have focused on being a student of the game and bringing along guys with me,” he said.

Ellis will be moving to inside linebacker this season but seems to be comfortable with the positional change.

“My job is to get around a blocker, through a blocker, make the tackle,” Ellis said. “I’ve wanted to be in the mix. It plays to my strengths.”

NU will have increased continuity and consistency by returning 18 starters on the offensive and defensive teams in addition to a coaching staff that has been together for four years.

Fitzgerald is aware that his coaching staff must prepare the second and third levels of the team in case of injuries. One of the Cats’ key returning players is running back Venric Mark. Mark is looking to get back to top form after an injury-plagued 2013 season. The team will need a well-balanced attack to get through a tough schedule.

The key games on the schedule will be the Big Ten opener against Pennsylvania State University, the following week against West Division favorite University of Wisconsin, Homecoming against University of Nebraska and the late season non-conference game against Notre Dame.

Fitzgerald and the Cats say they have put the 2013 season and the unionization saga behind them and are focused on the upcoming season.

“We have an incredibly hungry and highly motivated team.” Fitzgerald said. “I’m proud of the maturity our guys demonstrated throughout the whole (union) process that we went through this offseason. We’ve been through more since probably January than most, it’s been nothing but a positive and nothing more than unifying in our locker room and throughout our entire football program. ”