Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald was so hard on himself following last year's loss to in-state rival Illinois that he's vowed to have his team better prepared.
As the Fighting Illini look to become bowl eligible, the 17th-ranked Wildcats will try to take a step toward becoming the winningest team in school history Saturday in Chicago.
The Wildcats (9-2, 5-2 Big Ten) have a chance to reach 10 wins for the first time since 2012 and state a case for a major bowl game with a victory in the regular-season finale at Soldier Field. Northwestern has never finished a season with 11 wins.
Josh Ferguson finished with 95 yards and two touchdowns in that contest. The senior running back also took over the team lead in rushing yards (668) over freshman Ke'Shawn Vaughn last Saturday with a 105-yard effort in a 32-23 loss at Minnesota.
Illinois has dropped two in a row and five of six, but still has an opportunity to become bowl-eligible for the second straight season and fourth time in the past six. The program hasn't gone to bowl games in consecutive years since it went to five straight from 1988-92.
The Illini (5-6, 2-5) have struggled on both sides of the ball, getting outscored 166-107 in their last six. They've also surrendered 538 yards on the ground over the past two.
That isn't a good sign heading into a matchup with a Northwestern team that ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 192.3 rushing yards per game. Sophomore Justin Jackson has been on a roll, totaling 441 yards and two touchdowns over his previous three.
Jackson starred with 130 yards and two scores last season against the Illini, who have lost 12 straight versus ranked opponents by an average of 22.6 points.