Northwestern looking to secure quality bowl, put aside recent struggles with Illinois

In line for a quality bowl, Northwestern also realizes it can't look too far ahead.

The Wildcats play Illinois on Saturday, and their recent history against their in-state rival is not good. That explains why they're just a little apprehensive about Saturday's game, no matter how poor the Illini are playing.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald says there's "no question this is a huge rivalry," and his team has come up short the past two years.

Northwestern (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) appears to be in a good spot after beating Michigan State 23-20 and shaking off a brutal overtime loss at Michigan. That's something the Illini (2-9, 0-7) can't say. The free fall that began after a 6-0 start under Ron Zook last season still is going strong under new coach Tim Beckman.