<
>

Pat Fitzgerald won't rush a QB decision for Northwestern

CHICAGO -- The podium session was almost over, and Pat Fitzgerald still hadn't been asked the question he was expecting all along.

The media took their time getting to Northwestern's uncertain quarterback situation, and likewise Fitzgerald made it clear he wasn't going to rush to resolve it either.

Maybe the Wildcats will see some of the separation they weren't able to find between the candidates during spring practice shortly after camp opens. Perhaps there won't be an answer until shortly before the season kicks off in September. But either way, Fitzgerald isn't going to leave any stone unturned based on the plan he outlined on Friday at Big Ten media days -- a blueprint that includes everything but a timeline.

"I'm a little surprised it took this long for that question," Fitzgerald said. "But we've been here before. ... We'd rather have it happen organically than to force something.

"At this point, we're not ready and prepared to inject right now and be forceful either because all three guys have had a good summer from a leadership standpoint. I think they're all in really good shape, and now we're going to roll the ball out and let it play."

What the Wildcats really need is to figure out who can air the football out best, particularly after a somewhat underwhelming season for its passing attack a year ago with veteran Trevor Siemian at the helm.

He's now gone, leaving senior Zack Oliver, sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson to vie for the job as the Wildcats try to upgrade offensively and help the program bounce back after again missing out on the postseason last year. Fitzgerald didn't give any of them an edge heading into camp. While he may have an open mind about tabbing a starter, he has given plenty of thought on how to reach a decision.

"You've obviously got the statistical side that we have plenty of information from spring, and then that will kick back in here when we start up a week from Monday back on the field," Fitzgerald said. "We will then also have off-the-field evaluations and a lot of that has to do with ... who is truly going to be the guy that walks onto the field and make the other 10 guys on the offense better? Who's going to raise the level of our offense? If we want to get to our goals, that has to happen.

"And then we're going to talk to the rest of the guys, especially on the offense. [Offensive coordinator] Mick [McCall] and I will have candid conversations with those [veteran] guys privately on who they feel and who they trust the most."

That relationship could take time to develop, and at this point, the Wildcats still have enough to work with that there's no reason to rush to a decision.

But there is a deadline that everybody is well aware of on Sept. 5 when the Wildcats host Stanford. One way or another, Fitzgerald will have to make a choice.

"All three of those guys have those type of qualities, but somebody has to emerge and separate himself," Fitzgerald said. "There wasn't a clear separation [in the spring]. Did Mick and I want to have that separation happen? Yeah, we would have loved to have it happen but it didn't.

"I'd love to have that happen in the first week [of camp]. Will it? I don't know, and I don't want to put that type of expectation on that process."

Eventually there will be an answer. But just like Fitzgerald's appearance at media day, the quarterback battle doesn't have to be the first thing the Wildcats address.