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Fitzgerald, Wildcats gear up to take on Missouri
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff

Northwestern's Ross Lane makes a catch in the end zone for a touchdown despite pressure from Illinois' Brit Miller last month in Evanston.


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 12/8/2008 12:01 AM

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Pat Fitzgerald and his wife, Stacy, board a New York-bound flight early today so Fitzgerald can take part in the College Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2008 induction ceremony.

While it sounds like a mini-vacation down memory lane - especially since the Fitzgeralds get some rare time without their two young sons - don't be fooled.

Northwestern's third-year football coach plans to bring virtual images of Chase Daniel and his teammates along for the ride, which promises to be more disruptive than any number of children could be.

Fitzgerald had his video assistant fill up his laptop with tapes of Missouri since that represents the final obstacle in NU's fine 2008 season.

Once No. 21 Missouri and No. 23 Northwestern were passed over for New Year's Day bowls in favor of teams with lesser records and rankings, the Alamo Bowl happily paired the Wildcats (9-3) and the Tigers (9-4) for its Dec. 29 shootout in San Antonio.

"(The laptop) will be with me everywhere I go," Fitzgerald said. "And every waking minute that I have that's not already accounted for will be spent on Missouri.

"(Stacy) knows how we travel. She puts her iPod on and I leave her alone; I'll just put it to you that way."

Missouri, which won the Big 12 North, promises to be a significant potential stumbling block.

Daniel, who has thrown for 12,315 yards and 99 TDs in his career, directs the nation's No. 6 offense in scoring (43.2 ppg) and yardage (497.5 ypg).

Most of the Wildcats, sensing this could be their bowl opponent, watched Missouri's 62-21 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game Saturday.

"What I took away from it is Missouri has got a ton of athletes," senior quarterback C.J. Bacher said. "There are playmakers on both sides of the ball. We're definitely going to have our hands full, but we've got playmakers, too."

Northwestern held its fourth bowl practice Sunday morning but will take an official week off in order to focus on finals.

While Fitzgerald jets to New York and San Antonio (for Alamo Bowl promotions) and Orlando, Fla. (to present the Bednarik Award), his assistants will work on the game plan that will be finalized when Fitzgerald returns.

And the players? They'll sneak in three workouts around their test-taking and paper-writing.

"Do a little warmups, get a little run in, sweat a little bit and make sure our timing is still good," said senior wide receiver Eric Peterman. "Nothing too physical."

It's all being done so Northwestern can fulfill its primary preseason goal: Win a bowl. Not only have the Wildcats not won a bowl since 1949, they've enjoyed just one 10-win season in their history.

"I think it sets the tone for the years to come," senior linebacker Prince Kwateng said. "When we came in, we all wanted to become winners, and we finally have done that.

"For the years to come, it will just show we are winners and everyone else will have to live up to that and surpass it."