For many teams, a game against South Dakota after playing three BCS foes is the perfect recipe for a letdown. For NU, however, the players and coaches seem to be just as focused this week as if they were playing another big name.
"We don't care who we play, we care about ourselves," Pat Fitzgerald said. "We talk about it all the time, it doesn't change if it's Syracuse, if it's the last game or if it's this game. We have not played a great game yet; we have not put three phases of complete football together. That's much more important."
In fact, with NU having pulled off some big upsets in recent years, the possibility of a team pulling out a win against the Wildcats is heavy on the coach's mind.
"We have no change of beating Nebraska on the road last year, why did we even go?" Fitzgerald said. "We could have saved about $85,000. That's why we play the games. You look at what teams have done on Saturday throughout the country; anybody can win on any Saturday in college football. I think that's why it's so much fun."
And though it's expected to hear Fitzgerald saying all the right things, the players seem to have taken on a similar mentality.
"They're a good opponent," we're not gonna change a thing," offensive lineman Brian Mulroe said. "We're preparing as if we're playing the Bears this week. It doesn't matter, it's not gonna change anything. We're still gonna try to be as physical as we can and just keep improving. This is a big week for us, so it's just another week, no one's changing anything."
On not being ranked:
Despite being 3-0, the ‘Cats have not yet cracked into the rankings in either major poll. While many fans are crying foul and campaigning for NU to move into the top 25, the team itself is mostly unconcerned.
"Not much of a reaction to that," defensive lineman Quentin Williams said. "We just really try to focus on us. If we need to do more to show the country that we deserve to be up there then obviously we'll do that. If it's a chip on the shoulder to some guys, then that's what it is but I like to think that we just go out there and try to do our best."
Fitzgerald was even more aggressive in saying he wasn't concerned about rankings, saying he doesn't think any rankings should come out until October.
"It's a waste of time because nobody has played anybody yet," Fitzgerald said. "Wait till everybody gets into conference play for about three weeks if you want to talk about things that are out of our control."
Fitzgerald said he's received messages from fans asking if he was mad about not being ranked, but insisted that he doesn't care.
On possibly finishing non-conference play 4-0 If Northwestern beats South Dakota, the ‘Cats will have gone 4-0 in nonconference play three times in the last five years. Though that may not seem like much in previous years because of lesser scheduling, the team's schedule this year makes it a much more impressive mark.
"It'd be fantastic because it's been a pretty tough nonconference schedule and it's just a tribute to how hard we've been working this offseason," Mulroe said. "Everyone's just really excited, so we're just gonna keep taking it one week at a time and just try to go 1-0 this week."
Mulroe's sentiments were echoed by other players, who insisted that though 4-0 would be great, they are focused on making sure they take care of business against South Dakota.
"It doesn't mean much unless we win this week, so 3-0 isn't a big deal unless we go 1-0 this week, so that's the focus for us," Williams said. "All we can really control is this week and that's what we're focusing on."