In line for a quality bowl, Northwestern has its ticket out and ready to be punched.
That would appear to be little more than a formality for the Wildcats with a home game against Illinois on Saturday, except they know better. They know all about their recent history against the Illini, and it's not good.
That explains why they're just a little apprehensive about Saturday's game, no matter how poor the Illini are playing.
''There is no question this is a huge rivalry,'' coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
And there's no debate, either, that his team has come up short against Illinois the past two years.
Now, 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 with eight straight losses ...