Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald says his team has not played a complete game yet, but the Wildcats have been consistent. | Tony Ding~AP
Updated: December 25, 2012 6:23AM
A victory over Illinois in the regular-season finale Saturday at Ryan Field would give Northwestern nine wins for the first time since 2008 and the second time since 1996. It would be a fitting ending to the careers of the winningest fifth-year senior class in school history and would likely seal a New Year’s Day bowl berth for the Wildcats.
Then there’s the motivation of playing their rival. For the Wildcats, nothing satisfies like a win over Illinois, especially after what happened last year.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t any extra emotion toward this game, but the biggest thing is we’re trying to treat it like another game,” Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter said. “We’re trying to take that businesslike approach and not let too many emotions get involved because that can really throw you off your game. We’re just trying to take it as it is. It’s a big game, a game we need to win. Of course we want to win it for our seniors, and it’s our rival, and they’ve beaten us the last two years. We would really like to get this one.”
This is a rivalry, all right. At Illinois, first-year coach Tim Beckman doesn’t want his players to refer to Northwestern by name. Despite the every-game-is-a-big-game rhetoric, this one means a little more for the Wildcats. Not only has Illinois won the last two games in the rivalry, but last year’s loss left a bitter taste.
Not only did Illinois rally from an 18-point deficit, but it rubbed Northwestern’s nose in it afterward by blaring “Sweet Home Chicago” and “My Kind of Town” from Memorial Stadium speakers. It was an obvious reference to Northwestern billing itself as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team,” which prompted Illinois to come up with its own slogan — ‘‘Illinois. Our State. Our Team.’’
Illinois has a chance to end an eight-game losing streak and create a lasting memory in an otherwise-forgettable season. While NU coach Pat Fitzgerald claims his team has yet to put a complete game together, the Wildcats have been remarkably consistent. He hopes that trend continues.
“I hope that’s a hallmark of a well-coached team, and when I say that, I mean a team that listens to what we’re trying to get them to do,” Fitzgerald said. “They take it to heart. We’ve been here now long enough together that the kids know exactly what we want and exactly how we want it done, and now they’re owning it.”