* Watch Coach Fitzgerald's press conference and full coverage from Big Ten Media Day at noon CT Thursday on ESPNU, or follow @NU_Sports on Twitter for behind-the-scenes coverage. *
"We're vocalizing that we are done not talking about it," explained Nwabuisi, a fifth-year senior. "But not only do you have to talk about it, you've got to be about it. So that's what we're working for everyday when we come in here."
"I'd say this group has a different mindset," added Mulroe, another fifth-year senior. "Me and Dave have actually been part of four bowl games and we've lost them all. So we're not satisfied whatsoever. So, going off of break down with Big Ten champs, yeah, it's just a different mentality, a different mindset on this team."
Two days earlier, in his office, 'Cat head coach Pat Fitzgerald had mentioned that the players he had talked to "feel strongly that this is as committed a team as they've been part of since they've been here."
"This is definitely one of the closest groups," Nwabuisi here agreed. "It's a lot different between people. Friendships. We're a lot tighter knit this year than we were the last couple years. So we'll see how it all works out. But we've definitely come together a lot more as a team through winter, spring, summertime, and I'm excited to see what we put out there."
The 'Cats, over the last two seasons, have put themselves on the cusp of joining the elites in their conference, but both times they stumbled and came up short. In 2010, after defeating Iowa, they were 7-3, but they lost quarterback Dan Persa in that game and staggered home with three straight defeats. Then last year, after opening with a pair of solid wins, they suffered through a five-game losing streak colored by the occasional -- but always fatal -- individual breakdown.
From those experiences, Colter will say here, "You learn it's a team effort no matter who's on the field, which players you have back this year, who are the high-name guys. It's going to take a total team effort to get us past that point (and to join the elites). So bringing the whole team along, that's been the focus this year. You're only as strong as your weakest link, so we've got to bring everybody along. Then, as this team comes together and everybody starts coming along, I think we'll be able to get past that point."
"Like he said, you learn it's a total team effort," added Nwabuisi. "You learn every single play counts. Being disappointed over and over again, it gets to the point where you've got to look yourself in the eye first, then look your teammates in the eye, (saying) 'I'm giving my all on every single play and I need you to too.' You've got to have everyone understand that. We need everyone's all every play on that field. Otherwise we can let a game slip away, like it's happened before. Just have to learn how to finish, man."
This, back on Monday, was another theme touched on by Fitzgerald, who then said, "Obviously, the last two seasons have created some little wounds. We've had opportunities to win more games, and we haven't. . . There've been opportunities for us to take another step and we haven't, and I think that's become an incredible motivator."
"Absolutely," Mulroe would now say. "We've gotten close to where we wanted to be, but we haven't finished, as Dave was just saying. A couple games came down to just a couple plays here and there. That shows how important every rep is and, like Dave said, don't take any play lightly."
One more thing to not take lightly; one more thing that Fitzgerald touched on Monday; one more thing that just might finally push these 'Cats into the rarified air of the elites is experience. "You can't put a price tag on the experience level of some of the guys we have coming back. They've been there and done that," was how he put it.
"I definitely think experience is priceless," Colter will say now. "So the more you have of it, the better off you're going to be. When you're thrown into the fire and you're not really experienced, a big play may affect you more than it should. But us three, we've had a lot of experiences, done a lot of things, had a lot of ups-and-downs, and I feel that's just going to help us during the season."
So how is he different from that fall day in Boston last year when he started for the first time at quarterback?
"I'm a lot more comfortable," he said. "As you get more reps, as you watch more film, as you see more defenses, the game just slows down for you. You get more comfortable, especially with this group of guys around me. I feel very comfortable around them. I feel they're going to make me look good no matter what I do. That's just something that settles me down."
And what about Nwabuisi, who (coincidentally enough) will open his final season as a 'Cat in the same playpen he got his first 'Cat start (Syracuse's Carrier Dome)?
"I'm a lot more confident," he said. "As Kain said, the game slows down. With age and experience, you know little things to look for, little clues that go along with your film study to let you know what might be coming. Really, you just go out there and you're more comfortable. You feel like you know what you're doing at all times and you're out there trying to have fun. There's a little more pressure when you're younger to perform, but this is my last go around this year. So it's about making plays and enjoying my time out there with my teammates."
Does a special sense of urgency come with knowing this is his last go round?
"There's always an urgency," he said. "Being my last go-round, maybe there's a little more urgency to get everyone else to realize how important every single game is. Sometimes when you're younger, you might lose sight. You're not playing, or you're a backup, you think you have time to get things together. But it's our job as the older guys and the leaders on the team to let everyone know, one, you don't know when your last day will be, you don't know when your last game will be, your last play will be, and we all need you right now. There's no later, there's no later, because you never know what's going to happen."
That, finally, is the sense that emanated from each of these 'Cats, the effable sense that the future is not guaranteed and that now is the time to take that step that has eluded them over the past two falls. So, we wondered here, will they say out loud just what they're goals are?
"Big Ten champs," Nwabuisi said without hesitation. "Pretty simple. No. Not simple. But that's the goal. That's what we're aiming for. That's what we hope to get. Then after that, win the bowl. Those are our two goals this year."