Northwestern's preparation won't change for FCS foe Maine

Northwestern's preparation won't change for FCS foe Maine
September 16, 2013, 9:30 pm
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Vinnie Duber

Northwestern defeated Cal on the road. Then they came home and handed back-to-back drubbings to Syracuse and Western Michigan. Saturday brings a matchup with Maine, an FCS opponent.

Logic would indicate that the Cats should handle the Black Bears with ease.

But college football doesn't always subscribe to logic.

Just look at Week 3's scare at the Big House, when Akron of the MAC — and one of the MAC's least impressive teams — nearly upended Michigan. The Zips were winning late in the fourth quarter and would have walked away with a win if not for a pair of last-second stops inside the five-yard line by the Michigan defense.

[MORE: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 3]

Then there's the eight FCS teams that knocked off FBS teams in Week 1 of the season.

In college football, an upset can strike at any time, and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald knows it.

"We respect everybody, but the first way that you can respect your opponent is to prepare the right way and play the way you're capable of," Fitzgerald said Monday. "I believe our guys will do that."

Fitzgerald did an awful lot of praising of Maine during his weekly media session, and he brought up some pretty convincing points, making even the most logical believe this FCS team could challenge the No. 18 team in the country.

"This is a team and a staff that have been together now for a long time," Fitzgerald said. "Even compared to last week, P.J. and their staff are trying to teach Western how to win and win their way...This is a team that's further along down that road. Maine knows how to win. They've won a lot of football games, and it doesn't take long to watch on the tape that this team is a very, very good football team. And our guys, it won't take them long to see that."

[RELATED: Green rushes for 158 as Wildcats top W. Michigan]

Maine is 3-0 on the season, outscoring its opponents — including FBS team UMass — 82-42.

But wait a minute. This is a Northwestern team that has done nothing but impress, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats are averaging 43.3 points per game, the third-highest mark in the Big Ten. Their 520 yards per game also ranks third in the conference, and the 271 passing yards per game this season rank fourth.

On top of that, an offensive star is emerging in running back Treyvon Green, who in subbing for the injured Venric Mark, rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Western Michigan. He's got 353 yards on the season with six total touchdowns.

"In the way that we look at things, he was 70-percent run efficient, so on 14 out of 20 of his carries, he was successful on the play. That's probably the best that we've had in a long, long time. Just a terrific game by Trey," Fitzgerald said.

"I think it's No. 1 because he's healthy, and I alluded to it after the game. It's as healthy as he's been in two years. I think that injury last year really set him back, which is completely and totally understandable. He's been very hungry and worked very hard. He's in great shape, and he's taking advantage of the opportunity that he's got. I'm really proud of him."

[MORE: Illini don't take Soldier Field opportunity for granted]

So the numbers, the logic favor Northwestern on Saturday.

But there is a challenge here. Two weeks from Saturday, Northwestern will host Ohio State in a night game on Homecoming weekend. If the Cats and Buckeyes both avoid letdowns, it'll at the very least be a matchup of two Top 20 teams in one of Northwestern's biggest games in a long, long time. So the challenge against Maine becomes to not look ahead, to not get wrapped up in the what could be.

Though that's rarely been a problem for Fitzgerald's teams, and that's why Maine will get the same type of preparation and effort that Ohio State will.