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Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald will give team leaders a say in who starts at quarterback

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CHICAGO — Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is looking for a starting quarterback, not "Mr. Congeniality."

But being popular with teammates can't hurt as senior Zack Oliver, sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson battle for the position. That's because Fitzgerald says that in addition to evaluating the candidates' play on the field and their leadership qualities, he and Mick McCall, the team's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, will ask some senior members of the squad for input.

"When you've got young men coming back like (Dan) Vitale and (Christian) Jones and (Geoff) Mogus — and I can keep going on and on with some of our seniors — Mick and I will have candid conversations with those guys privately on who they trust the most," he said.

"That goes back to the time in the locker room, in the apartments, all the little things that we don't all see that really make a difference," Fitzgerald added. "All three of those guys have those type of qualities, but somebody has to emerge and separate himself."


ROARING TO GO: Portions of Jerry Kill's first seasons at Minnesota were defined as much by his health as on-field results.

In 2013, Kill collapsed on-filed during a non-conference game with Western Illinois. He suffered a series of seizures prior to an Oct. 5 game against Michigan and was hospitalized for 10 days.

Thanks to better diet, sleep and medication, epileptic seizures that plagued the fifth-year Golden Gopher coach have receded as Kill approaches his second straight season in good health.

"I'm doing great," he said during Friday's Big Ten football media day. "I've been seizure-free now for over a year and a half. I feel great. And I don't know — what else can I say but I'm doing good. I'm doing good."

In 2014, Kill earned Big Ten coach of the year honors as Minnesota went 8-5 overall for the second straight season and reached the post-season Citrus Bowl, the program's third straight post-season trip.

The Gophers also produced Kill's first winning Big Ten season, a 5-3 record and tie with Nebraska for second behind Wisconsin in the Big Ten West.

Minnesota returns 15 starters, including five on offense and seven on defense.

"I think up front we bring back some experience," Kill said. "We'll be good up front and that's where it all starts. Mitch (Leidner, quarterback) has had an outstanding offseason. He's a year older. He went to Peyton Manning's camp, which he was invited to, which I think was good for him."

PHOTO: Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood speaks to the media during the NCAA college Big Ten Football Media Day Friday, July 31, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood speaks to the media during the NCAA college Big Ten Football Media Day Friday, July 31, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Minnesota opens Sept 3 at home against consensus No. 2 TCU and travels to pre-season No. 1 Ohio State in November.


DELAYED GRATIFICATION: Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo took a pass on the 2015 NFL draft and that decision may make him an even more tempting target in 2016.

In the near term, there's plenty to accomplish for a Scarlett Knights team entering their second Big Ten season.

"He's one of the premiere playmakers in the country," said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood. "When he made a decision to come back to Rutgers for his senior year, our program got better. And it gave him an opportunity to do some things that he had not accomplished yet and to be a better football player as well before he makes his transition to the next level."

The 6-foot, 1-inch senior started all 13 games in 2014 and caught 55 passes for 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was the only Rutgers receiver with at least one reception in every game, extending a career streak to 20 games.

"It was the best decision of my life," said Carroo, a communications major. "You have to know that the NFL isn't going anywhere and you can play that game the following year. I knew my degree was important to me, that was a big factor. To come back and graduate on time is even better."


PULLING IN THE SAME DIRECTION: A positive culture may not immediately translate into wins for the struggling Purdue program, but third-year Boilermakers coach Darrell Hazell believes he finally has everyone on the same page.

"Anytime you take over a program you're going to have some guys on one side of the fence, some guys on the other side of the fence and some guys sitting on the fence," Hazell said at Friday's Big Ten football media days.

"It's taken us 2 1/2 years to get to this point but we're in a very good location. We have very little distractions, those guys are thinking the same way and because of that you can get a lot of things done."

Hazell was 1-11 in 2013 and improved 3-9 last year (1-7 Big Ten West). The Boilermakers beat Illinois 38-27 for Hazell's first conference win.

Purdue returns 16 starters — eight on each side of the ball plus two on special teams — but there's no won-loss target.

"Whether we're picked first or last we're going to work as hard as we can," he said. "We can't get consumed by what people are saying about us. If you do you're losing time on things that do matter on Saturdays."

Purdue has had one winning season under four coaches over the last eight years. The Boilermakers were 7-6 under Danny Hope in 2011 and reached the Little Ceasars Bowl. They also went 6-6 the next year and were invited to the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Hazell turned around a Kent State program in two years, going 8-0 in the Mid-American and 11-3 overall in 2012.

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