Big Ten title not out of the question for Northwestern

CHICAGO - With over half the starters returning on both sides of the ball, Northwestern has its sights set on a Big Ten title.

"If your goals aren't to win your division and win your conference, then why are you doing this?" noted head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "But, I think that it is a process and that it is a culmination of the season. If you've got your focus on the destination instead of the process to get there, then you're going to overlook some things."

Not too many teams are overlooking the Wildcats.

They have a two-headed monster in the backfield between junior quarterback Clayton Thorson and senior running back Justin Jackson, who's already on the Doak Walker Award watch list.

"He's probably the best blocker in all of the country for running backs and you can put my name on that," laughed Thorson. "He really opens it up for the passing game. Everyone starts to shrink down and then we go deep."

Thorson went deep a lot last year, upping his touchdown numbers from 7 to 22 in his sophomore season.

"Amazing growth," remarked Jackson. "Really in his confidence in himself, that's where he's grown the most. You can tell by the way he walks, the way he talks, the way he handles himself around the team that he's very confident in himself and ready to lead our team even better than he did last year."

Another feather in the Cat's cap is their schedule. They don't play Michigan or Ohio State. Plus, Iowa and Penn State have to come to Ryan Field.

Maybe most importantly, the locker room has its swagger back.

"I don't know if in past years we really believed we could be great," explained senior defensive back Godwin Igwebuike. "This year we've got guys like Justin, guys like Clayton, guys like Garrett, Keith, guys coming back, Tyler Lancaster that just have an expectation to be great. It's our job as upperclassmen to bring everyone else along with that."