Chicago Sun-Times
with Neil Hayes

November 2012 Archives

Northwestern and Stanford have been named co-winners of the American Football Coaches Association's 2012 Academic Achievement Award, which is presented by the Touchdown Club of Memphis. Both universities recorded a 100 percent graduation rate for members of its freshman football student-athlete class of 2005. 

This is the seventh honor for Northwestern since the award's inception and the first for Stanford. 

Illinois, Northern Illinois and Notre Dame were among 47 other institutions recognized for graduating 75 percent or more of their student-athletes. This 

The Academic Achievement Award was established by the College Football Association in 1981. The award recognized the CFA-member Football Bowl Subdivision institution with the highest graduation rate among members of its football team. When the CFA disbanded in 1997, the AFCA stepped in to present the award and conduct a graduation rate survey that encompassed all members of the FBS. 

Northwestern's 50-14 win over Illinois at Ryan Field on Saturday will likely send the Wildcats to either the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., the Outback Bowl in Tampa or the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. They won't know for sure until next Sunday. Northwestern hasn't won a Bowl Game since 1949.

"Nine wins is a great year," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Ten is special. To be a bowl champion would be a great exclamation point. It's the only lingering negative in our program that you guys just love to talk about. The only thing I can do to get you guys not to talk about it is to win."

Fitzgerald made sure to send a message to bowl officials by talking up his team and its fans.

"We're a very hot football team right now," Fitzgerald said. "If you look at all of our games we could very easily be undefeated. We were winning in every game. Whatever destination we get we'll be very thankful and priviledged to have that opportunity but I think whoever makes the choice to bring the Wildcat and Wildcat Nation down to their home is going to get a very hungry football team, a very focused football team that understand what this kind of opportunity means for us and a fan base that's going to go down and support the communtiy and spend a lot of money."

Fitzgerald ended by saying: "That's my infomercial."

The Wildcats can expect to play a SEC opponent in whichever bowl gives them a berth.

"We're going to play a great team," Fitzgerald said. "You guys aren't going to give us a chance. We're kind of cool with that. that's just the way it goes. We're going to play it on the road, I assume in Florida somwhere. We'll play an SEC team in their back yard, we'll be underdogs by like 75 points. Nothing's new in bowl season for us."

Jeff Budzien kicked field goals of 44 and 36 yards. He has now made 17 of 18 this season. His only miss was a 53-yard potential game-winner against Nebraska.

"How he's not a finalist for the [Lou] Groza Award [given to the nation's best kicker] makes me scratch my head," Fitzgerald said. "I have no idea. I'm getting off that voting. I'm not doing it anymore. He has missed one field goal and it was from [53 yards]. He has had a terrific season and should have been a finalist all along."

Saturday's 50-14 win over Illinois was coach Pat Fitzgerald's 49th career win at Northwestern, tying him with Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf for first on the school all-time list, but he wasn't overly impressed with making history.

In fact, he gave the game ball to longtime assistant Jerry Brown, who has been on the Northwestern staff for 20 seasons.

"Today was Jerry Brown's 118th win as Wildcat assistant coach," Fitzgerald said. "I'll start talking about wins myself when I get to 118 or 119. That's what it's all about, men like Jerry who have led and developed so many of our former players in the locker room."

Brown has done some of his best work this season. The defensive backs coach helped a young secondary that looked vulnerable early in the season record five interceptions in their last two games.

Neil Hayes, Herb Gould, and others share their thoughts on the Illinois-Northwestern game.
The Northwestern women's basketball team will host an "Autism Awareness Game" on Sunday when they host Loyola at Welsh-Ryan Arena at 2 p.m.

Coach Joe McKeown's 18-year-old son, Joey, has autism. McKeown came to Northwestern more than four years ago after 19 years at George Washington University in part because he believed Joey would have more opportunities in the Evanston area.

"It's very emotional," McKeown said of what has become an annual event for his team. "It's not just our family. There are hundreds of families we've seen kids grow up with ours.

"We've all fought over the years just trying to create awareness and trying to get the kids better opportunities in schools and not be pushed to the side. That's still our biggest fight. The principals and education systems. Every school you talk to is broke. Every state in the country is broke. The laws are there. It's just being able to enforce the laws and make sure these kids get the money that's supposed to be allocated."

McKeown recently announced a recruiting class that was ranked 22nd in the country and second in the Big Ten by one publication. The class includes forward Nia Coffey from Minneapolis, Minn. --- Hopkins, guard Ashley Deary of Flower Mound, Texas, guard Christen Inman from Katy, Texas --- Seven Lakes and center Allie Tuttle of Cary, N.C. --- Panther Creek.
Few expected the Wildcats to be in this position when the season began, but here they are, preparing for their biggest rival with a New Year's Day bowl berth on the line. A win over the free-falling Illini in Saturday's regular-season finale at Ryan Field would mean intriguing potential berths in the Gator Bowl or perhaps even the Outback Bowl.

"The bottom line is we have to go 1-0 this week," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "The other stuff will take care of itself. It's out of our control."

Earning a bowl berth has become old hat at Northwestern, which is a testament to how far the program has come under Gary Barnett, Randy Walker and Fitzgerald. But the Wildcats (8-3 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) haven't won a bowl game since 1949, when the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb, the Polaroid camera was introduced, the average home cost $7.450 and gas was 17 cents a gallon.

An appearance in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., Outback Bowl in Tampa or the Capital One Bowl in Orlando would mean an SEC opponent. The Buffalo Wild Wings bowl is held at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. That game would pit NU against the third seed from the Big 12 after BCS choices are made and might provide an easier path to a landmark victory, but exposure is what's most coveted. 

The Fiesta Bowl kicks off at 9:15 p.m. on Dec. 29. The Outback-and-Gator bowls begin at 11 a.m. on Jan. 1 while the Capital One Bowl starts at noon on New Year's Day. The New Years Day games are preferable because they mean expanded viewership, better marketing opportunities and the ability to reach more potential recruits.

"If you take a look at how our fans have traveled over my four opportunities to lead our team to bowl games, it has been outstanding," Fitzgerald said. "We've sold all of our tickets. We've got a pretty attractive resume but you want to be hot going into selection Sunday and how to be hot is to win out in November. Obviously, we came up a play short [against Michigan] in Ann Arbor. We won a big game last week [against Michigan State] and this is a huge opportunity for us this Saturday not only to beat our rival in Illinois but to finish the season on a very strong note and add to our resume."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said running back Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter are expected to play in Saturday's regular-season finale against Illinois at Ryan Field. 

Mark was injured during overtime of a Nov. 10 loss at Michigan. He tried to play Saturday but was told by Fitzgerald that he would be held out of the second half. 

"He wasn't very happy but his response in the second half was unbelievable," Fitzgerald said. "He was ridiculous. I had to push him back on the sideline. We gave him our 12th man award for his juice and passion on the sideline. I would much rather see him scoring touchdowns, don't get me wrong, but the way he responded, I thought, was pretty spectacular."

Colter suffered what a spokesperson called an "upper extremity injury" late in the third quarter.

"We'll see how it goes practice-wise but we expect them both to play this week," Fitzgerald said.

Cornerback Nick Van Hoose has missed three straight games with an "upper body" injury and will likely miss a fourth, according to Fitzgerald.

Mark Dantonio may receive a letter from with Jeff Budzien's return address on it.

The Michigan coach called a timeout just before the Northwestern kicker booted a 43-yard field goal with 41 seconds left before halftime in the Wildcats 23-20 win at Michigan State on Saturday. Budzien missed that kick, which didn't count, but nailed the next one to give his team a 6-5 lead at the break.

"Not too many coaches who called timeout have ever kicked a field goal," Budzien said. "They don't udnerstand that actually it's a help."

Budzien made three more field goals in the game has made 15 of 16 field goals this season after making 6 of 10 last season. His only miss this season was a a 53-yard potential game-winner against Nebraska. Budzien has accounted for the winning points for Northwestern on three occassions and is a semifinalist for for the Lou Groza Award, which is given to the nation's top kicker.

Budzien said he prefers being "iced" because it allows him to get a practice kick in while also getting a feel for the weather conditions. He said a golfer would have a similar advantage if he got to practice a putt before attempting it.

"I got to get a swing on it and get a feel for the wind," he said. "I should write him a thank you card for that."

Venric Mark will not return in the second half of Saturday's game against Michigan State because of an "upper extremity" injury, according to a Northwestern spokesperson. 

Mark was shaken up during overtime of last week's loss to Michigan. Mark had six carries for nine yards in the first half against the Spartans and also returned a punt. Mark, who has the second most kickoff returns in Wildcat history, did not return kicks, however. 

Mark entered the game ranked first in the Big Ten and sixth in the country in total yards.

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