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Pat Fitzgerald won’t let Northwestern let up

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The facts: 2:30 p.m., BTN, 1000-AM.

Updated: October 23, 2012 6:10AM

To make sure Northwestern, which is undefeated against FBS opponents, doesn’t overlook FCS member South Dakota when the Coyotes visit Ryan Field on Saturday, coach Pat Fitzgerald announced that all but three offensive positions were up for grabs to promote competition in practice.

He keeps reminding his team that it has yet to play well in all three phases in any game. Fitzgerald is stressing turnover margin after his team fumbled three times, losing two, and missed opportunities to force several takeaways in a 22-13 victory over Boston College last week.

If the Wildcats aren’t at their best against the Coyotes, it won’t be for lack of motivation.

“I don’t think they care who we play,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s for you guys to talk about and for our fans to talk about. We talk about the young men we’re competing against, their strengths, what they do schematically.

“Why would we play the games? Then we had no chance of beating Nebraska last year on the road. Why did we go? We would’ve saved about $85,000. That’s why we play the games.”

The Wildcats shouldn’t have much trouble with a South Dakota team ranked 94th out of 121 FCS schools in total offense and 95th in total defense, regardless of who starts.

The Coyotes have 10 players on their two-deep depth chart from the Chicago area, which should give those players added motivation, although Fitzgerald is trying to keep his team focused on what it can control.

“I’ve had a bunch of fans send me messages, ‘Aren’t you mad that you’re not ranked?’ ” Fitzgerald said. “No, I don’t even care. It doesn’t matter. If it were me, I don’t know why you would rank anybody before October anyway. It’s a waste of time because nobody has played anybody until you get into conference play for about three weeks. If you want to talk about things out of our control, but even then, I wouldn’t give a crap if we’re ranked or not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is we’re starting to play better football.”

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