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Nebraska’s arrival won’t make success easier for Northwestern teams

Northwestern football coach PFitzgerald believes Wildcats are close major breakthrough.| Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald believes the Wildcats are close to a major breakthrough.| Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 21, 2011 2:16AM



The Northwestern football and men’s basketball programs are at a bit of a crossroads.

Both have grown into relative contenders in the Big Ten, but neither has been able to get over the hump and make a high-level bowl game or the NCAA tournament, respectively.

The football team finished 7-6 last season and lost to Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl on New Year’s Day, a year after finishing 8-5 and falling to Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

The basketball team has gone 20-14 each of the last two seasons, advancing to the National Invitation Tournament each year.

‘‘I think we’re close, but we just have to continue to improve,’’ said football coach Pat Fitzgerald, who signed a 10-year contract extension in May that will keep him with the Wildcats until 2020. ‘‘We’ve got a plan in place here that we’ve been working and adjusting for five years. I think we feel pretty good about that right now.’’

Is it possible the NU teams have just topped out?

‘‘I don’t know about that — you just have to win,’’ said basketball coach Bill Carmody, who also signed an extension this year. ‘‘Each year you have to continually get good guys. You have to make sure you’re competitive in every aspect of the program. . . . I think we’ve really started to do that more and more in the last couple of years.”

Getting over the hump will be even more difficult now because of the addition of Nebraska from the Big 12. The Cornhuskers are known more for their football than their basketball, but the basketball team has been more competitive in recent years.

‘‘It definitely upped the ante,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘It makes it much more difficult. It’s going to be a huge challenge, but that’s why you go to the Big Ten, man. You want to compete against the best and win in a league that has the best players. That’s why we do what we do.’’

Fitzgerald’s Wildcats will visit Nebraska on Nov. 5, which gives him and his staff a chance to watch film and see how other Big Ten teams approach the Cornhuskers. Nebraska and NU are both in the ‘‘Legends’’ division and will play each other every year.

‘‘We’ll have enough empirical data on how they’re playing now with their change in staff,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘It’ll still be a challenge, but we have to learn one school — they have to learn 11.’’

NU opens the football season Sept. 3 at Boston College, with the conference opener Oct. 1 at Illinois.



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