KALAMAZOO — No one in college football believes No. 17 Northwestern will lose to visiting Western Michigan at 9 p.m. Saturday (Big Ten Network).
The Wildcats are favored by anywhere from 31 to 35 points, depending on which sports book you frequent. Eighth-year coach Pat Fitzgerald and his team boasts the 14th best passing game in the nation and averages 46 points per game.
But that doesn’t mean Fitzgerald has no respect for the lowly Broncos and their rookie coach P.J. Fleck. In fact, during his Tuesday teleconference, Fitzgerald went out of his way to champion Fleck and his ability to lead young men.
“He’s been very successful as an assist coach,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m very happy for him. What a great opportunity for him and his family to be in the role that he is in at Western Michigan.”
Fitzgerald went on to talk about the terrific staff Fleck has assembled, and he even believes the Broncos have a strong team on the field — not just on paper.
“You watch the kids on tape, they played hard,” Fitzgerald said. “You pop on that Michigan State tape, and you got to be really, really impressed with the way that they played.
“And with the way they came back Saturday night against Nicholls, they just had that late interception that cost them.”
Western Michigan fell to Michigan State 26-13 in Week 1 and Nicholls State 27-24 in Week 2.
While Fitzgerald was an assistant at Northwestern in the early 2000s, Fleck was playing wide receiver at nearby Northern Illinois in DeKalb, Ill. Fitzgerald always had a close eye on Fleck and respects what the 32 year old is doing in Kalamazoo.
For the Broncos, it isn’t about winning on Saturday. Saturday is another opportunity for the team to build its foundation for the future. And as Fleck said after the Nicholls game last week, the Broncos can lose every non-conference game and it won’t hinder their ability to achieve their goal of winning a Mid-American Conference Championship this season.
If anything, this game is a great measuring stick for Fleck to see where his team is at. He’ll be able to identify weaknesses, strengths and players on the cusp of becoming great — maybe even ring of honor worthy.
A win for the Broncos on Saturday will entail each player doing their job and doing it with heart. If each player does their job and fills their role, it should not be a blow out. Saturday is an opportunity for the Broncos program to point the arrow upward.