Big Ten Media Days isn't happening as planned, but we can always pretend!
We don't get the chance to talk to all of our favorite Big Ten's head coaches in person this year so we decided to do a little make-believe.
Since using your imagination is fun, we decided to make our very own pretend Big Ten Media Days, complete with pretend questions for each of the Big Ten's head coaches, and in some cases, some even more pretend answers.
Each of our interviewers poses a hypothetical question to the coach – some serious, some not at all serious – and provide a brief explanation as to why that question is being asked, and in some cases, take a crack at how the coach might try to answer it.
We're working from the bottom up in the conference, which means we've already done Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue. Now, Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern are at the (fake) podium.
Let us begin.
Dan Hope: How do you revamp an offense in a limited offseason?
Given that Northwestern’s offense was one of the worst in the entire country last season, the Wildcats certainly could have used a full offseason to work through their issues on that side of the ball. Fitzgerald made the necessary move to cut ties with longtime offensive coordinator Mick McCall and brought in Mike Bajakian to revamp the offense, but it’s difficult to implement a new scheme when spring practices are cut short and you aren’t able to see your players in person for four months.
The Wildcats have a multitude of experienced veterans on offense, and Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey should be an upgrade at quarterback, but will a lack of time together on campus this spring and summer be a major setback for a unit that failed to move the ball with any regularity in 2019? If and how the offense will improve is undoubtedly the biggest on-field question surrounding Northwestern football entering 2020, and whether Fitzgerald, Bajakian, Ramsey and the rest of their offense can make that happen despite challenging circumstances will determine whether the Wildcats – who have a strong defense that also returns most of its starters – can get back on a winning track after going 3-9 last season.
David Regimbal: Northwestern has beaten Ohio State just once this century, and that win came in overtime during a 2004 season in which the Buckeyes were very much in transition under former head coach Jim Tressel. Coach Fitzgerald, if you could pick one TikTok dance to represent your program's failures against Ohio State, which one would it be?
The Wildcats were a legitimate threat for the Big Ten title in the mid-to-late 90s thanks to former head coach Gary Barnett and Fitzgerald, then Northwestern's star linebacker. They won or shared the Big Ten title in 1995, 1996, and 2000, but the closest they've gotten to a conference title since then was in 2018, when Ohio State buried them in the conference title game 45-24.
Northwestern wasn't able to follow up that 2018 campaign with anything special last season, but the framework exists for them to make things interesting this fall.
And if there was a TikTok dance to represent Northwestern's exclusion from the Big Ten's elite, it would absolutely be Supalonely by Benee. Fitzgerald is all about the latest social media trends.
Kyle Jones: Coach Fitz: you made some big changes on offense by bringing in BC coordinator Mike Bajakian and grad transfer QB Peyton Ramsey from Indiana. With two relatively proven commodities, is this the year your offense finally crawls back out from the basement of the Big Ten and gives your overachieving defense a break?
Bajakian was the architect behind the top run game in the ACC last fall, and inherits a slew of young running backs led by Isaiah Bowser, who largely helped carry an otherwise stagnant offense to the conference title game as a freshman in 2018. After playing in just 5 games due to injury last fall, he’ll pair with the veteran Ramsey to create one of the Big Ten most experienced backfield, just not together.
With limited practice time, getting a new coordinator and quarterback on the same page may prove more important than whatever is actually in Bajakian’s playbook, and may well dictate the Wildcats’ bowl eligibility. Early season contests should see a good amount of Bowser and Drake Anderson running behind an experienced OL, but Ramsey will have to be given chances to make plays in the passing game as well.
Johnny Ginter: Did you know that before last season, someone in the Cleveland.com preseason poll actually thought that your team was going to win the Big Ten championship? It's as true as it is hilarious.
I should probably ask a question about quarterback transfer Peyton Ramsey or whatever, but I'm seriously hung up on this preseason poll thing. What do you think that person was thinking, if anything? The Wildcats lost nine games last season! And, AND they had you beating Michigan! Do you know who it is? Was there some kind of quid pro quo involved? Did money change hands?
I only ask because if it was for more than 20 bucks you got ripped off, I'll do it on 11W for a 10 dollar Panera gift card.
I like Pat Fitzgerald in theory because I think one day, in like maybe three years, he'll be the longest-tenured college football coach at a single school and maybe people will finally realize that you basically have to be either him or Kirk Ferentz or Gary Patterson to pull that off. He is a man perfectly molded to his time and place, because he'll never win consistently enough to be a threat to leave, and will never lose too often and get fired. He's fine, just like Northwestern is perpetually fine.
Anyway, yes, they should be much better in 2020 with Peyton Ramsey. But not that much better, guys, geez.
Matt Gutridge: Coach Fitzgerald, if/when Kirk Ferentz is released from Iowa, you will become the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten. You will also move up to sixth among current FBS coaches for longevity at one school. What has been the secret behind your success?
Pat Fitzgerald, probably: “Man, it doesn’t seem like July 7, 2006 was that long ago, but here we are. During my 14 years as head coach in Evanston, my players have earned 96 wins for the program, nine bowl game appearances, 56 Big Ten victories and five bowl wins. All of which are Northwestern records for a coach. Before I took over, the Wildcats had only played in six bowl games over 123 seasons.
“Although I have numerous school coaching records, I am still two games below .500 against Big Ten opponents (57–59). I’m hoping to notch my 100th career victory and get my conference record above .500 by the end of this season. I might also become the elder statesman of the B1G as well.”
Zack Carpenter: What sort of impact can Najee Story have at Northwestern and how were you able to pull him from Ohio?
Per NCAA rules, Pat Fitzgerald won’t be able to talk about any unsigned recruits, so he wouldn’t be able to answer this fake question. But! It’s still a pretty important question, in our minds, for him to answer once Story signs. Even though Story was not a take at Ohio State, he is still a great talent who has offers from eight Big Ten programs, including Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and Minnesota.
Ramzy Nasrallah: Coach, you openly despise social media and smartphones. Last season after Northwestern went a full month without scoring an offensive touchdown you responded to the “40,000 experts on Twitter that can call plays for you” by saying “my email is hashtag I don’t care.”
You’re only in your mid-40s, yet seem to be firmly implanted in the mid-1940s. I’m wondering if there were kids on your lawn, what would you say to them?”
Pat Fitzgerald, probably: "It’s important to resonate with young people in this day and age. I would tell them to hashtag get off my lawn tik tok don’t cancel me dot go cats."