After coaching Northwestern to its first bowl victory in 64
years, Pat Fitzgerald has his sights set on loftier goals – like
competing for a Big Ten championship.
The 22nd-ranked Wildcats try to take their first step toward
meeting growing expectations as they open at California in the
Golden Bears’ first game under new coach Sonny Dykes on Saturday
Fitzgerald, in his eighth year at the helm, has helped usher in
success not seen at Northwestern since his days as a linebacker.
Last year’s 10-3 effort marked the school’s first 10-win season
since Fitzgerald helped it reach the 1996 Rose Bowl.
The Wildcats’ 34-20 Gator Bowl win over Mississippi State –
Fitzgerald’s 50th career victory – was the program’s second bowl
victory and first since a 20-14 final over Cal in the 1949 Rose
The result is a Northwestern team, with its first preseason
ranking since 2001, that doesn’t exactly look the part of underdog
“We’re not satisfied with just going to bowl games anymore.
That’s not acceptable. That’s the expectation,” said Fitzgerald,
whose team had been defeated in postseason contests in each of the
previous four seasons. “At the end of the day the expectation is to
Northwestern boasts the Big Ten’s leading returning rusher in
Venric Mark, who racked up 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns on the
ground. His 6.0 yards per carry ranked fourth in the FBS among
qualifying players, and he also presents a threat on special teams
after returning two punts for scores in 2012.
Fitzgerald will again employ a two-quarterback system, using
Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter. Siemian was the more prolific
passer, throwing for 1,312 yards, while the more athletic Colter
ran for 894 and 12 TDs.
“What’s the old coaches’ (saying) – if you have two quarterbacks
you don’t have one? I think we’ve proved that wrong,” Fitzgerald
said. “The only way that works is by being an unselfish guy. By
being a team-first player. And both Kain and Trevor are that
Cal is beginning its first season with Dykes as coach after
firing Jeff Tedford following a 3-9 mark last season. Tedford had
been in charge since 2002 and was the winningest coach in school
history, but his tenure turned sour as the Golden Bears went 15-22
over the last three seasons with one bowl appearance.
Dykes was 22-15 in three years at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs
led the FBS with 51.5 points per game last year while going
He’ll bring his no-huddle attack to Cal, which finished 10th in
the Pac-12 with 23.0 points per game last year and was held to 17
or fewer points six times.
Dykes is putting the offense in the hands of freshman Jared
Goff, who won the quarterback competition in training camp. The
highly touted Goff has been with the team since spring practice
after graduating high school early.
“I’m honored to get the chance to start for Cal and am looking
forward to going out and helping the team win,” he said.
While the Golden Bears lost receiver Keenan Allen to the NFL,
they return some big-play potential in the backfield with Brendan
Bigelow. The junior had only 44 carries last year, but averaged 9.8
yards and was particularly impressive in a loss at Ohio State with
touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards.
Cal’s defense, which surrendered an average of 47.8 points
during the final four contests, will be switching from a 3-4 to a
4-3 alignment. It should benefit from the return of linebacker
Khairi Fortt and cornerback Stefan McClure, who both missed last
season due to knee injuries.
Northwestern, which has opened each of the last three seasons
with road victories, is the first of seven ranked opponents for Cal