Team preview: Northwestern

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(All information as of June 20, 2007)


In retrospect, it's amazing Northwestern managed to pull off four victories in 2006.

Jarred by head coach Randy Walker's unexpected passing on June 29 because of an apparent heart attack at the age of 52, the Wildcats embarked upon a season-long roller-coaster ride where emotions and inexperience and injuries collided and colluded to make everything as tough as possible.

Linebackers coach Pat Fitzgerald, at a tender 31 years of age, was promoted to continue Walker's mission less than a month before his alma mater started fall practice.
"As I talked to our team, coach Walker is all around us right now," Fitzgerald said after directing his first practice as a head coach at any level. "We're going to move forward and continue his legacy that he started here. I felt him out here at practice and I think all of our players did, too."

Not only did Fitzgerald need to lead his team's healing, he needed to learn his new job on the fly. So did first-year offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, himself a 33-year-old pup.

Then there was Northwestern's youthful quarterback issue -- specifically that neither its sophomore nor its two redshirt freshmen had ever started a college game.
Throw in the fact that celebrated running back Tyrell Sutton fought through a multitude of injuries, and that defensive leader Nick Roach was lost for the season in game eight with a broken leg, and it's a wonder Northwestern experienced any success at all.

But over the season's final five games, the Wildcats gained some traction and built up momentum for 2007.