No Lack Of Motivation

Northwestern and Illinois will fight for the Land of Lincoln Trophy on Saturday, but a lot more is on the line in this rivalry. Both the Wildcats and Fighting Illini are finding reasons to be motivated, setting the stage for an entertaining clash on Saturday.

Not long after Illinois' thrashing of Northwestern at Wrigley Field, Fighting Illini defensive end Martez Wilson—now with the New Orleans Saints—declared Illinois was Chicago's Big Ten team.

With Wrigley Field decorated in Northwestern purple and the day built for the Wildcats, it was the Fighting Illini who stole the show. Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure embarrassed Northwestern by rushing for 330 yards, and the Illini posted 519 yards on the ground.

On Saturday, the Wildcats are set to clash with their in-state rival, and will be looking for revenge. However, before Northwestern takes the field at Memorial Stadium, don't look for any Knute Rockne speech from NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

"I think based on the way we played a year ago, there's not a lot I need to do to motivate our players," Fitzgerald said.

In the summer of 2010, Northwestern made ‘Chicago's Big Ten team' their trademarked slogan. Yet, the Fighting Illini aren't comfortable with that claim. They're fighting for their own turf in the Windy City.

When Mike Thomas was hired as Illinois' new director of athletics, he set a goal to make the city of Chicago Illini country.

"We need to be the king of the state, we need to be the king of Chicago," Thomas said in his introduction press conference. "We need to have a real presence there."

The Wildcats and Illini now clash for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, but are they fighting for Chicago, as well? Not according to Pat Fitzgerald.

"We're the only school in the Chicagoland area, we don't have anything to prove," Fitzgerald said. "It's pretty simple. Chicago's Big Ten team, it's pretty simple. Not Central Illinois' Big Ten team. That's enough said about that."

Illinois is finding motiviation in their own way, as coaches have created a superiority complex in the Northwestern football program.

"They (claim they) don't recruit our type of guys," Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino told reporters. "That's pretty much calling our guys something. That would irritate me. That's pretty much calling you, what? I don't know. That's calling you something. Read between the lines. We'll be ready to play."

Northwestern is finding motivation in other ways, as well. Wildcat players didn't go into many details about last season's matchup, but it's something they are well aware of.

"Any loss is going to hit home and it's always going to be in the back of your head," said NU linebacker Bryce McNaul. "I think we've done a good job putting it in our rearview and focusing on the task at hand, which is Illinois."

The Wildcats know what happened at Wrigley Field, and they're hoping to change that. As Northwestern linebacker Collin Ellis points out, this is 2011, not 2010.

"The mindset of our group is last year is last year, this year is this year," said Ellis. "We're a new team. We're just excited about Saturday, it's a big in-state rival, and we're looking forward to the opportunity to compete."

On Saturday, Northwestern and Illinois square off with plenty to win. In-state bragging rights, a recruiting edge, and more are on the line. When the game ends, the only thing that really matters is who gets the Land of Lincoln Trophy. The Wildcats are vying for that.

"When you're competing for a trophy, every person on our team is a competitor," said Northwestern safety Brian Peters. "If we get a chance to win a trophy, we're going to take it."


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