Northwestern opens Big Ten play Saturday at No. 24 Illinois. With the new Big Ten realignment, NU finds itself in the Legends division while the Illini are in the Leaders and will play in its first of three crossover games this season. Penn State and Indiana are the other crossovers for NU.
But coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't think the realignment will affect the Wildcats as much as moving to a nine-conference game schedule starting in 2017.
"Every game still counts and its critically important to get off to a fast start," Fitzgerald said. "We're kicking [the conference schedule] off by playing a ranked team on the road. When we move to nine conference games, that'll [have] more of an impact than divisional play.
"It was my understanding that one of the key components [to the divisions] was to protect the rivalries. I felt confident that it was the direction the conference would go."
The NU-Illinois rivalry was protected but the NU-Purdue one was not. The Boilermakers will not face NU this season.
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Fitzgerald was happy with Tuesday's practice -- held indoors because of periodic rain showers -- which ended about 15 minutes earlier than expected. Fitzgerald said if a practice ends early, it means the Wildcats must be doing something right.
"It was one of our better practices," he said. "We were real spirited and real physical. It's obvious that it's Big Ten time. We finished 15 minutes early today and that'll show you the tempo we pracitced at. We practiced fast. Today was one of our fastest practices. The guys went at a great clip."