For new coaches Jerry Kill, Kevin Wilson, and Brady Hoke, Thursday was a new challenge as they each fielded questions of how they will plan to bring a winner to their new programs. Nebraska's Bo Pelini faced tough questions on how his Huskers will fit in to their new conference.
In the midst of changes and scandals, a number of Big Ten coaches faced tough questions and an even tougher road ahead in the season. For Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, things are different. His Wildcats have a number of key players returning and no problems off the field. On Thursday, Fitzgerald was able to focus on football—just football.
"I'm excited about the experience coming back," Fitzgerald said to the media on Thursday. "Arguably the most experienced team we've had since I've been the head football coach, a group that's won as many football games as any other class in Northwestern football history. Looking forward to them reporting here in a couple days."
Fitzgerald fielded questions about his team's health—especially concerning senior quarterback Dan Persa, who Fitzgerald confirmed is "100 percent healed" physically.
As Fitzgerald answered a bevy of questions about his quarterback's health, he spoke with confidence and excitement that the "Heisman Trophy candidate" will be just fine.
"He's doing great, everything is going well," Fitzgerald said of Persa.
"He's 100 percent healed from the standpoint of the surgery, now it's about adding the strength, getting the conditioning level up, getting back to having fun. I know he's chomping at the bit to play football again."
Injury concerns that may have carried over from spring practice were quickly dismissed by Fitzgerald. While a number of the Wildcats' key returning players sat out in the spring, Fitzgerald admitted to taking a conservative approach with the veterans.
"Based on the reports of our athletic training staff, we're as healthy as we've been," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald and the coaching staff have plenty to be excited about at wide receiver. While Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore draw plenty of attention, Fitzgerald mentioned seniors Charles Brown and Demetrius Fields as potential under-the-radar standouts.
Overall, Fitzgerald feels Northwestern's wide receivers could be a talented group.
"A lot of competition there, a pretty deep group," Fitzgerald said. "Add a pretty talented group of freshmen to it. We'll see how things progress in two-a-days. We play a lot of wide receivers, so we'll see how those guys progress."
While other Big Ten coaches struggled in the spotlight, Pat Fitzgerald spoke with confidence about a football team that could be very good. With Dan Persa and a number of other key players returning, Fitzgerald should feel optimistic.
Meanwhile, Northwestern remains one of four college football programs that has not faced any NCAA sanctions. As the Big Ten collectively works toward a changed image, Fitzgerald is optimistic for a brighter future.
"It's all on us as stewards of the game to make sure we leave it in the right spot as we move it forward, while we're in it and also as it comes after us," Fitzgerald said. "Hopefully we'll continue to do that in a positive vein."