Northwestern built for November magic

Northwestern built for November magic

When the calendar turned from October, Pat Fitzgerald had a message for his Northwestern team: make it a November to remember. In past seasons, the Wildcats have finished the season strong, with several improbable upsets. It will take that and more this season, but the Wildcats have what it takes.

It's stressed every day in practice by Pat Fitzgerald and his staff. Each workout, drill and rep, it echoes throughout the field.

"Finish! Finish! Finish!"

The regular season is winding down, and realistically, it will take many good fortunes for Northwestern to achieve its goal of winning the Legends Division. Contests with Michigan, Michigan State, and rival Illinois will provide a difficult challenge. But the Wildcats still believe it can happen.

Fitzgerald takes pride in his team's ability to rise up in the month of November. In 2011, with the Wildcats' backs against the wall, they knocked off ninth-ranked Nebraska in Lincoln -- one of three critical wins in November leading NU to bowl eligibility.

In November of 2009, Northwestern upset unbeaten Iowa in Kinnick Stadium, then completed an unblemished month with a win over No. 17 Wisconsin. One November prior, a special defensive effort led NU to its first victory in Ann Arbor since 1995.

Magic in the month of November is nothing new for Northwestern. So when the calendar turned over from October this year, Fitzgerald delivered a message to his team. "People remember what you do in November."

It will take a lot for Northwestern to pull two road upsets, but it has happened before, and wasn't a fluke.

It stems from the recruiting process. Fitzgerald filters out prospects with a no-nonsense approach. Even the blue-chippers must buy in or move on. It takes chemistry and confidence for a team to achieve an improbable upset. Northwestern has that.

"Every school sells it, but you can't fake it when you get on campus," said Fitzgerald in a summer interview. "I think that's when it gets revealed how tight-knit our guys are, the camaraderie and chemistry within our young men."

Such a filtering process ensures each Wildcat shares a common goal, forging a unique connection within the roster.

"We make sure the guys really know what they're coming here for; to get a good education and to win a Big Ten championship," senior linebacker David Nwabuisi said. "Those are the kind of guys Northwestern recruits, the guys with the right values and beliefs."

It's a longshot that Northwestern will appear at Lucas Oil Stadium for the conference championship game. The Wildcats relinquished their spot in the driver's seat, and are playing from behind. Still, they remain focused on finishing strong.

Northwestern believes it can beat any opponent in any environment. It's a belief system instilled by Fitzgerald and his staff. The Cats can make it a November to remember.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats and Chicago Cubs. He currently resides on Chicago's north side.
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