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Big Ten notes: Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald calls Hackenberg "a first-rounder"

After being shut out 39-0 by Penn State, Illinois coach Bill Cubit praised Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald also sung his praises.

Illinois coach Bill Cubit put it bluntly on this week's Big Ten coaches' teleconference: "You know, we played Penn State and we didn't play real well."

Cubit, the Sharon Hill native whose Fighting Illini (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) were shut out 39-0 by the Nittany Lions (7-2, 3-1 Big Ten) on Saturday, not only lauded the Penn State team, but offered high praise of quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

"He looked a lot more comfortable in the last couple games than he did earlier" this season, Cubit said. "He's standing back there. He's more poised. He's a big strong guy who can really throw it."

"He's now a tri-threat quarterback," Penn State coach James Franklin said with a laugh. "We're trying to break the stereotypes about Christian."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has noticed too and said he's ready for his squad (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) to be tested Saturday at noon in Evanston.

"Hack has been playing like a first-rounder," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald also said he thinks there is no truth to the talk that Penn State's veteran defense struggles with dual-threat quarterbacks, such as the Wildcats' Clayton Thorson.

"Those sound like pretty good storylines but I think those dual-threat guys have just made some plays. I don't think it has anything to do with what they're doing structurally or anything like that. I've been very impressed with their entire football team," Fitzgerald said. "The way Penn State played against Illinois last week was very impressive."