While the Northwestern football season will be looked at as forgettable, there is one thing to always remember — Week 13 means more. This year, it’s no different. Northwestern will return home after two dreadful road losses to Minnesota and Purdue, two games in which the Wildcats only scored 12 total points and never led in either game.
Northwestern’s opponent is a long-time familiar foe in the Illinois Fighting Illini (7-4, 4-4 B1G), who enter Saturday’s matchup with the Wildcats as a two-touchdown favorite and losers of three-straight close losses, all but eliminating any hope of a Big Ten West title and an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game a week from Saturday in Indianapolis.
As mentioned earlier this week, the Wildcats will have to contain the nation’s best running back, Chase Brown, along with finding a way to break through one of the FBS’s best defenses. Easier said than done when your offense can’t compliment you on the other side, right?
On the bright side, however, Northwestern has dominated the rivalry for the better part of a decade-plus, including winning eight of 12 meetings since the start of the 2010s.
Minus 2016 and 2021, the Wildcats have been ranked every year for the Land of Lincoln Trophy since 2015, making the game pivotal for bowl positioning. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, a bowl won’t be in their sights this year, but an upset over the Illini would complete one of the most stunning late-season collapses in recent memory. It would also open the door for Purdue or Iowa to win the western division, pending other results on Friday and Saturday.
Northwestern lost last year’s rivalry tilt in blowout fashion at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, as the Illini buzz-sawed their way to a 47-14 win over their Evanston rivals.
Even though records do matter in college football, head coach Pat Fitzgerald still embraces the challenge of finishing the season on the right foot.
“Probably every coach in the country talks about the rivalry game in the offseason,” Fitzgerald said at his Monday press conference. “They talk about it in training camp. You kind of put it away until you get to Sunday. Obviously, you debrief on the game, and then you start putting your focus into the upcoming rivalry game.”
Fitzgerald making it a teachable moment for his players also remains a priority.
“You’ll definitely go through the history. You’ll go through a lot of different ways we won this game, learn some lessons from when we’ve ended up on the short end,” he said. “At the end of the day, make sure we do what we can control, and that’s prepare the right way, celebrate our seniors and then hopefully play a very clean, physical game on Saturday that gives ourselves a chance to win.”
The Wildcats enter the game having not won on U.S. soil and look to finish the season with their second win, as the team currently sits at 1-10 (1-7 B1G).