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Northwestern Embracing High Expectations

Pat Fitzgerald

Pat Fitzgerald (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) Dan Persa has no problem admitting these are the highest expectations he has faced since coming to Northwestern.

The senior quarterback — and anointed Heisman candidate by his own school — is coming off a torn Achilles, but is still the face of a team that isn’t sneaking up on anyone in the Big Ten.

“I think so,” Persa said when asked at NU Media Day Thursday if these were the largest expectations he has faced at Northwestern. “I think just because of the amount of guys we have coming back on both sides of the ball. So we’re really looking forward to getting better in camp and the first game.”

Northwestern is receiving votes in the coaches poll — enough to technically be considered the 31st ranked team in the country — and head coach Pat Fitzgerald is OK with his players having their own high expectations.

When asked what he thought about tight end Drake Dunsmore telling a reporter, “I think this is the year we win the Big Ten title and go to a major bowl game,” Fitzgerald had this response:

“I’d be disappointed if he didn’t feel that way. If he aspired to play in the Pizza City Bowl then I’d have a problem with our expectations … We got it on our goal board. Our goals are simple after consistently preparing. We want to win the Legends (Division), win the (Big Ten) championship and win our bowl game. I don’t think that’s unique to just us though. So what are we going to do about it?”

Fitzgerald clearly believes his team has more experience than some of the other teams in the Big Ten and thinks it is ready to turn a corner.

“We’re not starting over here,” he said. “There’s a lot of teams in our league that are starting over and they’re trying to reinvent themselves. We’re far away from there. We crossed that bridge a long time ago. There’s a certain set of expectations and when you don’t get that kind of stuff done, you should get a little ticked off about it and that’s kind of, I think, the way that everyone feels around here. And we’re trying to do something about it.”

PersaStrong Response

Whenever a team launches a Heisman campaign for one of its players, it brings a ton of attention to that school, but also adds expectations to that player. For Persa, the “PersaStrong” campaign has also made him the butt of his teammates’ jokes.

“Danny has just been relentlessly made fun of by his teammates, so it’s just awesome,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it’s hilarious .. it’s keeping him humble. But he doesn’t need that.”

And what does Persa think about it?

“It gets more attention for our program and our players so I’m for it,” he said. “It’s cool. I’m honored that our school wants to do that for me, but at the same time, I’m not really worried about it. As long as it gets more people in the stands, more people watching our games, I’m fine with it.”

The campaign includes billboards around the Chicago-area and one strategically placed in Bristol, Conn., but Persa doesn’t really care about that kind of exposure.

“I’m not going to look up and pat myself on the back for having a billboard or whatever. That’s just not who I am,” he said.

Kenosha limititations

When the NCAA instituted a new rule this summer that put limitations on off-campus practice sites, the Wildcats’ annual training camp trip to Kenosha, Wis. took at hit.

Northwestern will still make the week-long trip, but it can only practice at UW-Parkside’s grass field. In the past, the Cats would also practice at a nearby high school that has FieldTurf. The high school also has more stands, which made it a great place for the team’s annual scrimmage that is open to fans. Because this year’s scrimmage has to be held at UW-Parkside, only a limited amount of fans will be able to attend.

“We just don’t have enough room there for our fans from a safety standpoint, so it’s disappointing but it’s what we got to do and how we have to adjust,” Fitzgerald said.

The head coach clearly isn’t thrilled with the new rule.

“I understand why they put the new rule in, but I don’t agree with neccessarily the interpretation of it. So we’ll deal with it and move on,” he said.