Football: What to know from Big Ten Football Media Days


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Junior quarterback Ryan Hilinski and junior offensive tackle Peter Skoronski lead the Wildcat offense against Michigan. Skoronski, an All-Big Ten selection, spoke Tuesday at Big Ten Football Media Days.

John Riker, Gameday Editor

Standing at the podium for his Tuesday Big Ten Football Media Days interview in Indianapolis, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald fielded questions about last season’s 3-9 record, the upcoming Ireland trip and collectives. But relative to his Big Ten coaching peers, Fitzgerald had fewer questions directed his way, prompting some awkward silences.

“That’s what happens when you win three games,” Fitzgerald joked, “not a lot of questions.” 

Still, Fitzgerald, along with junior offensive tackle Peter Skoronski, senior defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore and junior defensive back Cameron Mitchell, gave insight into what the Wildcats hope will be a bounce-back campaign ahead of Thursday’s start to preseason camp. Here are three takeaways from their Big Ten Media Day appearances.

  • All eyes on Ireland

The Cats’ historic trip to Ireland for their Aug. 27 season opener against Nebraska was understandably a major talking point. Fitzgerald explained his program’s planned approach for balancing sightseeing with competing against a Cornhuskers team that crushed last year’s matchup 56-7. For the players speaking with host Dave Revsine on the Big Ten Network’s broadcast, reclaiming the respect lost during 2021 is the clear objective heading into camp. 

“We’re going to have fun experiences, but we’re definitely business,” Mitchell said. “We all saw the game last year. We’re going in, we’re trying to be gritty, we’re going to get that back.”

  • Competition under center

Fitzgerald called the quarterback competition between junior Ryan Hilinski and sophomore Brendan Sullivan “neck-and-neck” since the end of spring practice and expects to make an internal decision on QB1 for Ireland within the next two weeks. He’s not planning on doing his Big Ten competition any favors by naming a starter well in advance of Aug. 27 but said he felt good about the state of the position group. 

Fitzgerald also mentioned his preference to continue developing the quarterbacks the program recruits rather than looking to the transfer portal. Hilinski appeared in nine games in 2021 after transferring from South Carolina, while Sullivan came in as a three-star recruit and has yet to see game action.

Despite last year’s poor quarterback play — the unit’s three starters combined for 13 passing touchdowns and 14 interceptions  — Mitchell said composure from both Hilinski and Sullivan excites him the most about the battle. 

“Coming off last year, they put their hard hat on and they went to work,” Mitchell said. “They got a lot of confidence, and they displayed it really well in the spring.” 

  • NU sidesteps some pressing issues but gives a taste of what’s to come on the field

Fitzgerald gave his most specific answers yet in his assessment of the 2021 season, attributing the Cats’ regression to poor execution, failure to control the point of attack on the lines and inexperience.

The pressing questions off the field? Not quite as much. When asked on the Big Ten Network’s studio set about whether this would be the last season at Ryan Field, Fitzgerald deflected the question and said that matter was the domain of athletic director Derrick Gragg. On the issue of collectives in the Big Ten and the absence of such support for NU athletics, Fitzgerald expressed his appreciation of the Cats’ alumni base and NU’s in-house name, image and likeness partnership with Altius.

The players also brought performance-first attitudes to their podiums. Skoronski, an All-Big Ten selection and prospective NFL Draft first-rounder, said he intends to focus on the 2022 season rather than his professional future. 

“It’s cool to be on lists, but it doesn’t mean anything unless you prove it on the field,” Skoronski said. “If I lock in day in and day out, it will take care of itself in the end.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @john__riker

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