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Northwestern facing must-win game vs. Iowa

Coach PFitzgerald Wildcats figure be underdogs against NebraskMichigan Michigan State after playing IowSaturday. | Getty Images

Coach Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats figure to be underdogs against Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State after playing Iowa on Saturday. | Getty Images

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The facts: 11 a.m., BTN, 720-AM.

The records: Northwestern 4-3, 0-3 Big Ten; Iowa 4-3, 1-2.

The line: Iowa by 4.

Updated: November 27, 2013 6:12AM

Pat Fitzgerald is like any other college-football coach in that he doesn’t like to talk about the big picture.

That works for those coaches competing for a national championship or even a conference title. Every week has equal bearing on accomplishing those goals.

But for 4-3 Northwestern, its game Saturday at Iowa might have the biggest impact on its hopes for landing a bowl bid.

The Wildcats need two wins to be bowl-eligible. That seems doable with five games left, but Northwestern won’t be favored at Nebraska and in home games against Michigan and Michigan State.

So is Saturday a must-win? Fitzgerald’s answer was predictable.

“I don’t believe in must-wins,” Fitzgerald. “I think every game is the same. I think you’ve got to win every opportunity you can.”

True, but the Wildcats haven’t done that, and it has put them in a must-win situation against the Hawkeyes.

Northwestern could beat the Wolverines, Spartans and Huskers. After all, this is the same team — at least from a personnel standpoint — that was considered among the favorites to win the Big Ten entering conference play.

But poor execution on offense the last two weeks has jettisoned the Wildcats from the conference race and has raised questions about whether they can compete with the Big Ten’s best.

The good news is Iowa is not among the conference’s best, making the game Saturday one of the most winnable left on the schedule.

But the Hawkeyes have one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, and it’s sure to put pressure on the Wildcats’ struggling offense.

“I’m just going to say that every loss is a big one,” superback Dan Vitale said. “I think coach Mac [running-backs coach Matt MacPherson] this week said it perfectly. You’ve got to hate losing more than you like winning. So that’s kind of the mentality we’re having.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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