Sticking to their guns

Northwestern gets set for one of the biggest regular season games in program history Saturday. Its coach and players refuse to get psyched out.

For once, Pat Fitzgerald's had too much time on his hands.

All Fitz has had to do for the past week is waver between Venric Mark and Treyvon Green; Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton; staking a claim in the Big Ten or stumbling to the middle of the pack.

"That's always a concern of mine, when we have too much time to worry about too many ‘what ifs,'" Fitzgerald said at Monday's presser. "But I think you embrace whatever comes along with college football. There will be a lot of emotion, a lot of pageantry."

That includes Northwestern's Homecoming weekend, visits from a horde of ESPN personalities, College Gameday by the campus' Lakefill and a primetime, ABC-televised game with the No. 4 team in the country. After taking the field to three lulled crowds and handily beating three underwhelming nonconference opponents, there will be a discernible change of scenery come Saturday.

It's natural to get wrapped up in the towering task at hand and the media hype, but on Monday, Fitz and four of his biggest stars looked anything but nervous.

"Everyone's texting you. You see the tweets," Tony Jones said. "It's really good for the community and the school just to be so excited."

But now, they're focused on making Saturday's game worth the hype, and offering a strong first impression for college football fans unfamiliar with the NU program.

"Nothing changes for us this week. Our routine is our routine," Fitz said. "That's been the hallmark of our program."

Last Saturday, Jones and his teammates gathered at program facilities on their off day to watch Ohio State play Wisconsin, Northwestern's opponent the week after the Buckeyes.

It was a relaxing experience, they said, even for childhood Buckeye fan Tyler Scott. Studying a team as good as Ohio State may figure to be daunting for most, but the Wildcats in attendance Monday said they see it as an opportunity to prove themselves. It's a refreshing level of level-headedness and even subtle confidence for an underdog.

If there's any way an underdog has a chance, it's in staying comfortable with its own game plan and culture and fighting the tendency to blow the game into something more than just 60 minutes of football. Even Kain Colter, who admitted he was rooting for Ohio State last weekend to ensure Gameday in Evanston, said that the Wildcats "don't want to overhype" Saturday's game. Deflecting questions about a "measuring stick game" and "reversing history" was the first start in seeing Saturday as a football game—not a spectacle or hyperbolic statement.

"Every Big Ten game is a measuring stick. Each game is kind of a one game season," Fitz said.

This game is no different from the others, at least from a preparation standpoint, and that should be encouraging for Northwestern fans. The Cats are sticking to their guns.

We're hungry. Thats the best way to describe it," Jones added. "Hungry and ready to eat."

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