Touching Base with ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg

Fitz Hook em horns at Syracuse

Well, after a four day layoff, most of you will be checking the LTP ESPN Bowl Mania group standings that number more than 200 strong.  The Poinsettia Bowl gets us back in to tracking our picks as BYU (LTP’s pick) faces San Diego State. I figured this was reason enough to check in with the man with his finger on the pulse of all things B1G and a regular in Evanston, ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg. AR recently interviewed Fitz for ESPN.com which you can see here and is somewhat of an essential set-up to today’s interview.

Also, we’d be remiss without at least mentioning the fact our 2013 conference road opening opponent, Wisconsin, named Gary Andersen, as their head coach.  Andersen was most recently at Utah State and nearly knocked the Badgers off in Camp Randall in September. You can learn more about here on ESPN.com.  Now, on to our interview

LTP: Your interview with Fitz was great. He was candid and even said things worth discussing, like the fact the media blows the impact of a bowl win or loss out of proportion.  What’s your take on Fitz right now heading in to the bowl game? Looser than past, same or just better at trying to manage the media?

AR: I think he knows he has a good team that ended the season better than Mississippi State did. He also knows the bowl history with Northwestern, but he doesn’t have to play it up any more with the players like he did last year. The bowl monkey thing was good for laughs, but gimmicks like that often don’t work. Northwestern seems to be all business this season — a quietly confident group that knows it finally has a somewhat even matchup in the postseason. While I know why Fitz tries to minimize what a bowl win could mean, he hasn’t experienced one at NU, either, so he doesn’t really know the value. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who finally notched his first bowl win at the school in the 2012 Outback, has told me repeatedly how much that win resonated throughout the offseason and really helped the program in multiple ways.

LTP: That’s interesting on the Dantonio front. I’ve repeatedly heard Fitz talk about Dan Mullen and Mississippi State and the “wrinkles” that are tough to plan for, but you’ve come to expect. Do you get a sense that we’ll be going primarily with the Kain & Venric show or a dash of Trevor along with wrinkles on our own?

AR: With added prep time, you have to put some wrinkles into the game plan, and both teams will for this one. Kain clearly is the leader of the offense, and when he and Venric have the option going, Northwestern is virtually impossible to stop. But Trevor shouldn’t be the forgotten man, either. Although he needs to improve his accuracy and should as he gets older, he has made more big-time, NFL-type throws early in his career than I saw from previous Northwestern quarterbacks, including Persa. Siemian should have a role in this game, but it shouldn’t strictly be in low-percentage, obvious passing situations.

 LTP: I’ve harped on the Michigan State finish in a good way. I believe that Fitz/McCall’s approach to the final ‘Cats possession was a potential seminal moment for the coaching staff in ditching the conservative, “play not to lose” mentality that hurt us in the Penn State and Nebraska games.  Do you get a sense from the team how that game may or may not have changed things?

AR: While it’s only one game and Northwestern didn’t face a similar situation the next week against Illinois, I think it could suggest the late-game mentality has changed. We’ll only know the next time the Wildcats face that type of situation. The fact Northwestern had success against a very good MSU defense with Siemian suggests the coaches will go back to that approach if necessary against Mississippi State.

 LTP: Bowl buzz. Is it just me or does it seem to be down in general for both NU and the B1G in general. For that matter, the Notre Dame national title hype is thankfully a lot less than I would’ve expected.  What’s your take on this?

 AR: It’s definitely down for the Big Ten, but what did you expect after a season like this? What’s there to get excited about if you’re a Big Ten fan? A 5-loss Wisconsin team in the Rose Bowl? While Barry Alvarez makes that game a lot more interesting, it still doesn’t move the needle nationally that much. Nebraska fell apart in its last game and meets a Georgia team that might be even more glum after coming so close in the SEC championship. You have a Purdue team led by an interim coach and a Minnesota team that can’t score points. Sorry to sound like Scooge, here, but those are the facts. An 0-7 performance is quite possible, and a winning mark for the league would qualify as a huge shocker. Northwestern is actually one of the best stories in the Big Ten. Although the Wildcats would be getting more attention if they were in a bigger bowl game, the bottom line for NU is getting a win and eliminating that final negative, as Fitz would say.

LTP: You run in pretty connected media circles. What’s your take on the recent B1G additions and the impact it will have on NU?

AR: It’s hard to get too excited about Maryland and Rutgers from an on-field perspective. I get that. But for people like you and I who understand the expansion process a little deeper and what the Big Ten needs to do to remain relevant, it makes a lot of sense. Jim Delany isn’t just spouting lip service when he talks about demographics and the need to expand outside of the Big Ten footprint to areas with more people, more recruits, big TV markets. Maryland and Rutgers certainly fit this criteria. Still, as I wrote last month, the Big Ten is really betting on itself here. The league needs its existing product to resonate in these new markets. Should be interesting.

These additions are good for Northwestern because Northwestern, like some Big Ten schools, has so many alumni in New York/New Jersey and Washington D.C./Northern Virginia. Those folks now have more access to Northwestern games. It’s also very good for recruiting as both areas produce quite a few FBS players.

LTP: Adam, thanks for the check-in and we look forward to connecting after we seal this season by getting that long-awaited bowl win!

More Bowl Prep Angles

Yesterday, we talked about Teddy Greenstein’s coverage of Fitz and his bowl game approach this season and how it differs from when he first started bowling five seasons ago. Neil Hayes of the Sun-Times has a nice piece with a similar theme, this time with a bit more player perspective on the contrast between the more fun bowl prep and the all-business in season approach. Take a peak here.

  • BaltiCat

    just an FYI…they HAVE Big Ten network as part of the basic cable package in maryland already.

    • Ron

      Yes, but I think they’re hoping more people will watch it.

    • http://twitter.com/RevDJEsq Chad

      And while it may be on basic cable now in Maryland, the cable companies there pay less per subscriber than they will/would as a B1G state (i.e. non B1G states may pay 10 cents a subscriber, whereas B1G states currently pay 90 cents or something like that).
      It’s not about getting BTN on Maryland/Rutgers cable, it’s about getting it on basic (it’s not on basic everywhere there yet) AND getting those cable companies to pay the premium prices B1G state cable companies currently pay.

  • DT

    Adam Rittenberg– Fitzgerald has indeed minimized what a bowl win might do for the program– for the very reason you suggest being he has never won one at NU as Coach or Player. I’d differ with you in that I think Fitz knows very well what the upside is.. The fact he is ofer em all, has contributed to a steady increase in denial as Head Coach, when the touchy topic of his career bowl futility is broached by media and fans, two groups he pretty much feels know nothing anyway– according to his statements after the Wisconsin game in 2010.. That said, he will sell the benefits of wins against the likes of Cuse, Vandy or BC with the passion of Bob Rohrman selling cars…

    Very much enjoy your work… You do a solid job for ESPN.. Can’t say that about some of your associates…

    • http://twitter.com/RevDJEsq Chad

      Yes….let the hate flow through you…..feel the dark side…..
      (Honestly, why do I bother reading the comments?)

      • DT

        Chad, for all your happy horseshit and program top spin here and elsewhere, you pal are the real hater.. And I have no idea why you keep reading my comments and further offering up these glib responses that today reads like Edgar Allen Poe..

      • NUmanager

        Don’t dare question DT, Chad. You will be labeled a University shill.
        He’s convinced those of us who prefer to take a positive tack about our favorite team are nothing more than athletic dept plants.
        Funny how our recruiting continues to improve just as the dreaded “streak” continues to grow every longer. It defies logic!

        • cece

          it’s not a matter of questioning DT, it is that the DT comment above is not some outrageous out of bounds statement. and if one writes on the board with the same old commentary….and everyone should take a look in the mirror on that score….then you open yourself to criticism. Chad and NUManager included. also, the University does read this board, as has been posted here, and it often seems by postings that there is displeasure with certain sentiments. DT cares. criticize his commentary via the subject matter and you would have a better effect. we need everyone on the NU bus, not just corporatists who go along with the leadership.

          • NUmanager

            Cece coming to DT’s defense. Excellent! See below from the fair and balanced DT “happy horseshit and program top spin” in regards to Chad. I didn’t know that Chad had a reputation on this blog as a “corporatist.” He actually didn’t say anything nice about NU at all. He just stated that DT was killing his buzz. We all know I’m a corporatist right cece? You keep railing against the machine that is NU Athletics and I’ll keep rolling my eyes.

            SNL did a skit last week. “Girl you wish you hadn’t started a conversation with at a party.” To me DT is the “Cat fan I wish I hadn’t started a conversation with at a party.” The problem is this conversation has been going on for two years now and I’m apparently a wicked masochist because I too can’t seem to get my eyes to skip his patronizing posts.

            Looking forward to beating Miss St so Debbie Downer can get back to complaining about ticket sales.

          • DT

            Manager, you would not know “Fair and Balanced” if it landed in your lap… Chad saying “I was killing his buzz”.. Cute and 100% incorrect no less.. That said, if my comments to Rittenberg related to Adam’s fine interview with Coach Fitzgerald were enough to “kill his buzz”, I suggest some stronger tonic in his water… After Chad’s macabre bromide on hate– I’m not sure he needs anything stronger nonetheless in that an obvious flipside exists to his usually sunny up with NU persona often exhibited here and seemingly other NU Football Social Media.. That said, I find myself agreeing with him from time to time…Maybe in the spirt of Kum-Ba-Yah, I need to tell him that more often… Something I’ll work on in 2013!!!! Chad, god love you and sleep better tonight knowing NUManager has your collective back…

            Now Manager– In terms of your SNL riff where you casted me as the girl in the conversation– I’d envsion your role in the skit as the girl in the corner of the room nobody talks with or moreover- the guy struggling to ask her to dance.. Brutal right of passage, dude.. I’d be happy to write Lorne Michaels a note on your behalf given the obvious type casting..

            Anyway, Manager, like always– I’ll be looking forward to “seeing” you at the party we call Lake The Posts, win or lose after that bowl game… In the event of the latter outcome get your talking points in order on how “The Streak” as you call it will be just fine for recruiting and ticket sales and how ten losses in a row is progress.. In the event they win, throw all humility to the wind like I know you will and call me a bad fan for ever doubting the NU program…One thing that is certain in the aftermath of the game, is plenty of Happy Horseshit from you and your crew.. Have at it you wicked masochist! Nasty!!!

            Cece– Keep the faith.. You got him pegged right.. Happy Holidays and Go Cats!

          • NUmanager

            Excellent again. Now where did I put those “talking points”?
            While I’m looking, still waiting for a few actual, real-life examples of the bowl losing streak having a negative impact on recruiting. Explain to me where you get your information again? I get mine from actual recruits.

          • DT

            You are as you say, a wicked masochist..

          • cece

            actual recruits. interesting.

          • bjm

            If DT were the girl in the skit, his purse would be Black and Gold. Mine, by the way, would be purple. He and I settled that in a previous thread. It’s all coming together now, and I have been at peace, as I believe DT is.

            I still cannot understand all the negativity from someone who would claim to be a fan, but in the spirit of the season I am trying. I am now seeing the corporatist concept, so am attempting to follow that. Is it like we are fighting an ill-intentioned corporation with bad motives? Does it help on this blog to express a lot of negative comments, like Fitz “in denial” to push for some sort of positive change? I am truly trying to understand it.

            Happy Holidays to each of you!

          • cece

            Happy Holidays to you too, DT! note to everyone, when someone writes Go ‘Cats! they care. remember that. Go ‘Cats!!!!

    • Jpklock

      Genuinely curious here, DT: how many bowl games have you won as a coach or player? If zero, are you extrapolating your own lack of experience, and anticipating that Fitz shares in it?

      That seems, actually, like it’d be sensible enough…

      • DT

        klock- Your “genuine curiousity” deserves a genuine answer… I proudly point to my 1-0 Bowl record, given a role as de facto special teams coach of sorts for the 1987 Miss Hawaiian Tropic Bowl, in advance of the NFL Pro Bowl.. Once in a lifetime experience that I’d bet Coach Fitzgerald too would have enjoyed… I’d note, I waived my 1.8 million dollar fee for services as well in getting that win…

        • David

          That sounds like a precursor to the LFL.

  • Henry in CT

    I still think Connecticut would be a great get for the B1G. UConn offers football that would be competitive in the B1G, great men’s and women’s basketball (10 NC’s since 1995), coverage of all of New England plus more NYC interest than Rutgers and a top state university (better than Rutgers or Maryland and ranked higher (9th) than any B1G state university except Michigan). It would be nice in one of these interviews to ask why the B1G has not considered UConn.http://www.stateuniversity.com/rank/score_rank_by_pubc.html

    • UVA Cat

      UConn may be a great school but those rankings you cite are suspect. They have Univ of Puerto Rico ranked above UC Berkeley…

      • Henry in CT

        They don’t call it the Harvard of the Caribbean for nothing.(:

      • NorCalCat

        Berkeley (arguably the best public school) not in the top 20 throws serious question on those rankings. I had not thought much of UConn as an academic institution but it is the #21 public school in US News’ rankings. That puts it in about the middle of the B1G behind Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Illinois, OSU and Maryland but ahead of Purdue, Minnesota, MSU, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska and to Henry’s point Rutgers.

        Seeing that, I agree with you Henry that UConn would have been a better fit than Rutgers for the B1G: about equal academically but better from an athletic and commercial standpoint. However, UConn isn’t a member of the AAU which seems to be an important consideration for new members, Nebraska notwithstanding.

  • David

    Just curious what others think. I don’t get the impression that AR is much of a NU fan. There is no doubt that Teddy G is a fan. Michael Wilbon is a Proud NU fan. Michael Greenberg is a NU fan. Even Brent Musburger has let his purple fandom show from time to time. I have not once read anything AR has written that indicated that he is a fan. I understand not wanting to be perceived as a NU homer…but many other journalists are able to express their personal rooting interests…while professionally stating their objective observations. I just don’t get the impression that AR cares whether we win another B10 title or not. He seems to be most giddy when he has a chance to do one of his web interviews in person with Kirk Ferentz. Someone tell me if I am way off base.

    • CatInTheHat

      I think he’s early enough in his career that homerism can hurt him. He was my sports editor at the Daily, and I believe he feels NU pride but is appropriately measured in his fandom. He’s not quite at the level of a Wilbon or Greeney yet and I can understand his caution. Just my perspective, which is worth what you paid for it…

      • Alaskawildcat

        On target. I believe AR used to be identified as HeraldCat and wrote some of the best commentary on NU that any of the three Chicago papers offered. Also participated in person at the West Lot tailgates supporting the Wildcats all the way. To adapt a phrase from your handle, AR is obviously now wearing a different hat as his personal loyalties have had to be tempered by his professional obligations.

      • David

        I wondered if some posters might know him. Thanks for sharing your perspective. Does anyone think it would hurt his image if he were to express something like:
        - I was crushed when Demos missed the FG at the end of Regulation in the Outback Bowl
        -I don’t want to spend the next 9 months thinking about another Bowl win opportunity that got away.
        - I am really proud of this team.

        Especially, when having a discussion on LTP…where the common bond amongst the readers is our love of NU FB (and NU in general). Brian Bennett seems to gush more about NU than AR. AR seems to really fawn over Ferentz and Dantonio. Ultimately, he will run his career as he sees fit. But…if he is a Wildcat fan…it is too bad that he feels he has to mask it.

West Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Nebraska3000
Minnesota2100
Iowa2100
Illinois2100
Wisconsin1100
Purdue1200
Northwestern 0200

East Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Penn State3010
Maryland2100
Ohio State2100
Michigan2100
Michigan State2100
Indiana1100
Rutgers2101