Walker had done a solid job with the Wildcats, who really took to his strenous workouts and wide open spread offense. It's not easy to be competitive at Northwestern where academic requirments are high, yet Walker brought an exciting brand of football to the Big Ten and Walker's team captured the Big Ten Title in 2000.
In fact, it was Walker's offense last year that dismantled the Spartans to ruin MSU's homecoming by the count of 49-14, their biggest Big Ten victory since 1943. In that game, the Wildcats scored on their first four possessions of the second half to seal the Spartans fate as they rolled up 531 yards of total offense.
The new Coach is a familiar name around the Big Ten in Pat Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is an incredibly smart guy who was a two-time defensive player of the year for NU when Gary Barnett was the head man. He won two Big Ten Championships himself in 1995 and 1996 as a player, so he knows what it takes to get the job done. Fitzgerald has all the components needed to make a great coach someday, because besides his smarts, he has great work ethic, and was voted as one of the top recruiters in the country by Sports Illustrated.
Walker recognized his talents early on and appointed him to the position of recruiting cordinator for the Wildcats in 2004 while also retaining his job of coaching the linebackers. In fact, Randy Walker often expressed that Fitzgerald should be the guy to replace him, yet, no one could have fathomed the cirumstances that resulted in Fitzgerald claiming the job.
His first year at the helm has been one of frustration, as they opened with an emotional win against the two teams that Randy Walker had previously directed in the Wildcats and Miami of Ohio. The Wildcats were up to the task and rode a blocked punt and the emotion to a 21-3 win.
However, the Wildcats quickly came crashing to earth the next week when they lost to New Hampshire 34-17, which at the time was the No.2 ranked Division 1-AA team in America.
Northwestern simply wasn't prepared for a running quarterback in Ricky Santos, who ran for three touchowns, and dissected the Wildcat secondary for two more through the air to pull the shocker.
They then needed two late interceptions to barely get by Eastern Michigan 14-7. Going on the road to play Nevada, they lost once again by the score of 31-21. Nevada forced five turnovers and used a balanced offense to gain the victory.
They jumped from the frying pan and into the Big Ten fire, first losing to Penn State 33-7, as the Wildcats were close for a half, but PSU's Deon Butler had 216 receiving yards, and the Nittany Lions pulled away in the second half. They were then throttled by Wisconsin 41-9, as Badger running back PJ Hill ran over them for 249 yards. Purdue then used 448 passing yards to dump NU by the count of 31-10. Certainly, things have not gone as well as they would have hoped for so far.
Another interesting note to this game also features a reunion with former Spartan coach Greg Colby, who coached linebackers for MSU from 1995-1998 for Nick Saban during a time which featured three bowl appearances for the Spartans.
Colby started as a graduate assistant for George Perles from 1986-88 during the time frame the Spartans went to the Rose Bowl. So he is a connection to the success that has eluded the Spartans of late.