EVANSTON – When the Badgers’ final pass hit the turf at Camp Randall Stadium during the most bizarre of endings last Saturday, some Northwestern fans weren’t just reaching for their lucky charms following the victory.
Many were taking some time to open up the record books. It’s a necessity.
With the win over Wisconsin, the Wildcats earned their ninth win of the season and put them in position to make some program history. Only three times has a Northwestern football team had a double-digit amount of wins in a season. They got ten in 1903, ten in the Rose Bowl year of 1995 and then the same in 2012 when the picked up their first bowl win since 1949.
Already with a bowl spot clinched the Wildcats would have the chance to set the school record for wins with a triumph over in-state rival Illinois Saturday at Soldier Field and then another victory in January.
Always willing to pull out the coach-speak “One Game at a Time” line, even Pat Fitzgerald couldn’t deny the of the number.
“I’m not afraid to talk about the realities of situations, it’s maybe counter of what some people might think,” said Fitzgerald of the possibility for ten or 11 wins. “We understand the opportunity that we have here in front of us this week. It’s a rivalry game, it’s a rivalry built on respect.”
It’s one that the Wildcats are trying to get back after being knocked off by Illinois to end the season last November. The 47-33 win knocked the Wildcats out of a bowl and sent the Illini to one so there is a bit of a revenge (and the Land of Lincoln Trophy) on the line when the teams meet at 2:30 PM on Saturday.
Of course there is the milestone for victories too, but those storylines are not overwhelming as the Wildcats approach the end of their regular season.
“I don’t know that there is a lot of added pressure or weight added to us, at least not from the coaching staff and the program itself about making history in the program,” said junior receiver Austin Carr. “We take each week at a time. We want to go 1-0. That’s how we break it down every week and we’ve been able to do that nine times.
“Sure it would be great. We want to be the best team in Northwestern history and we want to keep winning.”
ILLINOIS: Postseason Fate and Coach’s Fate Decided in One Weekend
CHAMPAIGN – Whether his tenure ends this week or not, Bill Cubit’s going to keep the atmosphere warm.
Monday’s news conference was another example of such.
In tribute to former Illini basketball coach Lou Henson’s induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, the football coach wore his signature orange blazer when speaking to the media on Monday.
That’s totally fitting for the coach who has managed to put on a happy face during a year of turnover not just in the football program but the university as a whole. His own uncertainty will end this week, according to interim Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk, who told a Champaign radio station this week that a decision on Cubit’s fate will be made on Sunday.
But no matter what transpires between now and then isn’t going to faze the coach.
“I don’t, I really don’t,” said Cubit when asked if he thinks about this possibly being his last week as the head coach. “I’m fortunate and lucky to come in every single day with a job that I love. I don’t want to look at the negative.”
As he carries on with this business, Cubit hopes that his players do the same. With a bowl, bragging rights and other things on the line, the coach doesn’t want his players to get overwhelmed.
“I think there’s so many things going through these kid’s minds, and if we don’t think that, then we’re sadly mistaken,” said Cubit. “I think our thing is really making sure we treat it as a big rivalry game. And then somethings may take care of themselves, in terms of bowl games.
“We just got to get them focused.”
NOTRE DAME: Irish Keep an Even Keel about Playoff Ra
SOUTH BEND – At this time of year, it’s not always good enough to win.
Notre Dame found that out the hard way around 6 PM on Tuesday evening.
Despite winning their sixth-straight game last Saturday against Boston College at Fenway Park, the close nature of the triumph caused them to drop out of the Top Four in the College Football Playoff Poll.
Not only that, but the Irish dropped all the way to sixth behind Michigan State who upset Ohio State on the road last week.
Brian Kelly had his news conference a few hours before the poll was released but he didn’t seem to stress about a possible fall. For him, the entire playoff process is out of anyone in South Bend’s hands outside of the 60 minutes on Saturday.
“We don’t control that,” said Kelly of the poll. “There’s a committee that makes those decisions. All we can do is control the way we perform and the way we prepare.And they know that. Our guys clearly understand what they have to do in their preparation and then their performance on Saturday. And that’s it.
“The rest is up to a committee, and we knew that coming into the season. So we’ll take care of what we can take care of.”
It’s not like they don’t have enough to keep them busy this week. Notre Dame’s final game of the season is against ninth-ranked Stanford. They might be out of the national title picture but the Cardinal are already in the Pac 12 Championship and in the running for a BCS Bowl.
Twice in the last four years the Irish have lost their final game of the year at Stanford. But if they can come out of there with the victory, Kelly thinks the Irish have as good an argument as any team to make it in to the playoff.
“I think the strength of our schedule throughout the year. Top 25 wins. Again, I think when you look at, from the start of the year to the end of the year, the kind of teams we’ve played, certainly Stanford is going to be a great test for us,” said Kelly. “I think if you look at the teams across the board, we’ve played, from the start, in September, all the way through November, we’ve played a very good schedule.
“It hasn’t been front loaded. It hasn’t been back loaded. We’ve had to play good football all year.”