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Baker's Dozen: Coach Fitz Turning NU Into Real Contender

Editor's Note: Please join us in welcoming Ryan Baker to the writing staff of Look for Ryan's "Baker's Dozen" every Friday morning. 

By Ryan Baker-


I'm excited to be joining the talented roster of columnists here on  I look forward to you joining me in my kitchen as I cook up my thoughts on an smorgasbord of topics.

Main Course:

Full disclosure: I am a card carrying member of the Fighting Illini Nation (which you already know if you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram).  While I'm passionate about my alma mater, as I suspect many of you are who actually graduated from an institution of higher learning, I absolutely do not look at everything through Orange & Blue colored glasses.

I actually learned a thing or two about journalism while earning my degree from the University of Illinois.

Instead of going down to Champaign for the football season opener vs. SIU, I headed out west to the Bay Area to check out Northwestern's exciting 44-30 win over Cal.  I know some of you Illini diehards out there with blinders on will think that I must've sampled some of Berkeley's famous local horticulture and ended up in a Purple Haze. I've been called Shake 'N Bake, but never Wake 'n Bake.

I'm not blowing smoke, but a tree-hugging hippy as high as the Golden Gate Bridge can appreciate the consistently competitive program that Pat Fitzgerald continues to build.  The Cats have done more than just brand themselves in name only as "Chicago's Big Ten Team." They know who they are and what kind of players to recruit.

The flagship state school on south I-57 should take some notes.

Contending for a conference championship in the ever-expanding Big Ten will be a challenge, but at least Northwestern is in the conversation.  I like Fitz.  We're cut from the same cloth - a couple of South Suburban kids who out-kicked our coverage (especially with our wives).  The former NU All-American, who trumps only Willie the Wildcat as the face of the university, occasionally gives me a hard time about being an Illinois grad, but we have a mutual respect built around knowing the difference between school pride and professionalism.

It's been inspiring to watch him mature into a bonafide star in the collegiate coaching ranks.  At a spry 38, Fitzgerald is already the winningest football coach in Northwestern history, with five consecutive bowl appearances on his resume.  He's truly at home in Evanston, and after signing a lucrative 10-year deal. It'd take a lot of green for even a loaded powerhouse to lure him away from the Purple.

Maybe someday Fitz could be swayed by the Orange & Blue... if the Bears come calling.

Side Dishes:

Speaking of the Bears, we'll see how smoothly Marc Trestman's maiden voyage as an NFL head coach goes as the Monsters of the Midway set sail against the Bengals on Sunday.

Trestman already gets a game ball from me for his candid and insightful dealings with the media.  It sure beats Lovie Smith's bland leftovers we were forced fed year after year.

The mix of 10 rookies with more than half of the Bears roster playing for a contract should make for an exciting season.

Jay Cutler stands to gain - or lose - the most, with a potential 9-figure deal hanging in the balance.  Smart move by GM Phil Emery to force Cutler to show and prove that he truly is a franchise quarterback.

With a brutal schedule in the league's most bruising division, I see the Bears finishing 9-7 and contending for a wildcard playoff berth.


Here come the Hawks? Really?  It seems like it was just yesterday that I was on the ice in Boston in the middle of another Stanley Cup celebration.

Actually, it was June 24th. A mere 80 days later, the Blackhawks will drop the puck on training camp.  Despite the quick turnaround, I don't see the Champs having another Cup hangover like they did after the 2010 title. A tip of the "cap" to GM Stan Bowman for locking up several key complimentary players around his core, which could lead to a Stanley Cup encore this season.


It won't be long before the Cubs and White Sox put us out of our misery.

Jeff Pearl
The author. (credit: Jeff Pearl)

Ryan Baker serves as CBS 2 Chicago′s lead sports anchor on the 5:00 PM, 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM weekday newscasts. He joined CBS 2 Chicago from WMAQ-TV in Chicago where he had worked as an anchor and reporter since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBakerSports, on Instagram @RyanBakerSports and on Facebook. You can read more of his CBS Chicago entries here.

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