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Northwestern looking grittier than in seasons past

BostCollege running back Rolandan Finch is tackled by Northwestern's Jared Carpenter third quarter Saturday Evanston. | Paul Beaty~AP

Boston College running back Rolandan Finch is tackled by Northwestern's Jared Carpenter in the third quarter Saturday in Evanston. | Paul Beaty~AP

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Updated: September 16, 2012 11:36PM



Saturday might have been one of the better days in the recent history of Northwestern football.

The announcement of a new $220 million athletic complex to be built near the shores of Lake Michigan might not completely change ‘‘the landscape of Big Ten football and college football,’’ as coach Pat Fitzgerald gushed, but it should be a boon to recruiting and help the Wildcats better compete with conference heavyweights.

On the field, NU controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, dominated the game statistically and overcame self-destructive tendencies in the red zone during a 22-13 victory against Boston College at Ryan Field.

An identity is beginning to emerge, and it’s a grittier one than we’ve seen from the Wildcats (3-0) in recent seasons. This team is strong enough up front on both sides of the ball to reverse a four-year slide that has seen NU go from 9-4 to 8-5 to 7-6 to 6-7. Considering what we’ve seen from the Big Ten thus far, the Wildcats might be in position to compete for a title in a weak conference.

NU is in great shape, too. The Wildcats might have one of the best-conditioned offensive lines in the country, and their no-huddle offense has worn down opponents in all three of their games.

‘‘We’re starting to come together on both lines,’’ Fitzgerald said after his defense held the Eagles to 25 rushing yards. ‘‘That’s where we wanted to see where we were at. Nobody in the conference has played three BCS teams, and we have. We knew we had to improve up front on both sides of the ball to win these football games and get us to where we needed to go. I don’t think we’re a finished product by any stretch of the imagination, but that was priority No. 1.’’

The quarterback situation requires a delicate touch. Kain Colter excels as a scrambler and horizontal passer, while Trevor Siemian is slower afoot but capable of hitting targets deeper downfield. They are unselfish enough to succeed while splitting time, but at some point it might make more sense to name Siemian the starter and use Colter at other positions, giving the offense another dangerous skill-position player and making defensive coordinators worry about trick plays.

Minnesota and Ohio State are the only other Big Ten schools that are undefeated. If players and coaches are right when they say NU has yet to approach its potential and will continue to improve as the season unfolds, this might be a special season.

‘‘We’re 3-0 and haven’t even nearly played our best football,’’ Colter said. ‘‘That’s the encouraging thing. We can play a lot better. I can play a lot better.’’



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