Football: Fitzgerald optimistic about upcoming season, says Thorson intends to play in opener


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Pat Fitzgerald coaches from the sideline. Fitzgerald said he was optimistic about the upcoming football season, despite a tough schedule.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Reporter


Pat Fitzgerald expressed confidence in the state of his program on Monday, the first day of Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

The 13th-year coach said Northwestern is carrying momentum into the 2018 season, and that the team should get a boost from practicing at the brand-new Ryan Fieldhouse, which opened earlier this year.

The Wildcats ended 2017 on an eight-game winning streak, the longest in Power Five conferences. NU’s 2018 schedule is tough, however, starting with a conference game at Purdue on Aug. 30.

“You have the challenge of the opener, of going on the road, playing an incredibly well-coached team,” Fitzgerald said. “With a challenge comes an opportunity, and I expect our guys to prepare properly in camp, and I don’t really need to motivate them a whole lot.”

The game will mark the Cats’ first regular-season contest not on a Saturday since 2007, and their first time opening on a Thursday since 2004.

Fitzgerald gave a little insight into senior quarterback Clayton Thorson’s health, telling ESPN that Thorson’s “goal is to play in the opener,” although he added the team has “always erred on the side of being … a week late” in pushing players back from injuries.

Thorson tore his ACL in the Music City Bowl last December; the team has been noticeably mum about his status ever since.

Asked about a standardized injury report given the expected expansion of legalized sports betting, Fitzgerald said he would support such a policy, so long as other teams reported accurate information. The Cats have been notably reticent to release injury information under Fitzgerald; he almost never answers questions about missing players.

“If we move forward to where we have to have a fully transparent conference-wide or national one, I’d have no problem with that, as long as we adhere to it,” Fitzgerald said. “There needs to be accountability. If there’s not accountability to it, then I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect our players, first and foremost, and protect our program second, in full disclosure of transparency.”

Fitzgerald extensively discussed NU’s academic success, as the Cats earned the top Academic Progress Rate in the FBS last year. He also emphasized that the new facilities are a game-changer and give NU an opportunity to take that elusive next step: winning the Big Ten West. The Cats have never appeared in a Big Ten championship game and have not won a conference title since 2000.

“It shows that we’re all in as a program, we’ve made a total commitment to our student-athletes,” Fitzgerald said. “To see the leadership at our university step up and make that type of commitment gives us an opportunity to compete for championships on a consistent basis.”

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