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NCAA Football Big 10 FootballNorthwestern Wildcats

What Does Northwestern Do For An Encore?

Pat Fitzgerald Northwestern Wildcats

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Forgive Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald if he’s feeling just a tiny bit of pressure these days.

No, the eighth-year Wildcat coach’s job security isn’t at all in any kind of jeopardy. The former Northwestern All-American linebacker is a lifer in Evanston if he wants to be. You see under Fitzgerald’s watch Northwestern football is arguably at an all-time high. The ‘Cats have made five straight bowl appearances and enjoyed six seasons in a row of at least six wins.

In 2012, Northwestern won 10 games, marking the first time the program had reached double-digit victories since 1995. Even more impressive was the fact that the win over Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, gave Northwestern its first bowl triumph since 1949.

So how does Fitzgerald reach higher heights when they’re already pretty lofty?

Well, he knows he has built a solid program, one that will continue winning. With both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian back under center, the Wildcats figure to have one of the Big Ten’s best offenses. Last fall, Northwestern featured the third-best offense, averaging nearly 32 points per game.

And word is the defense might emerge as the program’s best since Fitzgerald took over the reigns.

This is certainly program that no longer is flying under the radar. People are definitely taking note of what’s transpiring on the far north side of Chicago. In his early 2013 power rankings, Big Ten Network senior writer Tom Dienhart picked the Wildcats fifth in the 12-team Big Ten.

The ‘Cats don’t seem to have enough firepower to challenge Ohio State, Michigan or Nebraska, but they should be better than anyone else the conference has to offer and that’s saying quite a bit for a program that used to be the laughing stock of not only the Big Ten, but the college football world.

Doug Griffiths is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association. Doug is a columnist/writer for RantSports. Follow him on Twitter @ISLgriffiths and Facebook.