In preparing for its first-ever Big Ten Championship appearance, it's business as usual for No. 21 Northwestern.
The Wildcats (8-4, 8-1 Big Ten) will face No. 6 Ohio State (11-1, 8-1) for the first time in two seasons, seeking their first win against the Buckeyes since 2004.
After a 1-3 start to the season, Northwestern has won seven of its last eight games, with the lone loss coming at home to unbeaten Notre Dame, 31-21 on Nov. 3. The Wildcats have won 15 of their last 16 conference games, but will have to find a way to contain one of college football's most explosive offenses in Ohio State.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday that there will be no changes to the Wildcats' weekly routine in preparation for the Buckeyes, so as not to get caught up in the spectacle of the stage or the grandeur of the opponent.
"I don't think anybody outside these doors would pick us to win this game," Fitzgerald said Monday.
"But I don't need them. I just need the 74 guys that are going to put on purple and white on Saturday. You respect the opportunity by the way you prepare. You respect the opportunity by the way you play, and you respect your opponent the same way.
"I expect our guys will prepare like it's a one-game playoff to go to the Rose Bowl, and if that doesn't motivate you I'm not sure what does. I just want the guys to trust themselves and go have fun."
While it is the first trip to a conference championship for Northwestern, the Wildcats have been to three consecutive bowl games, emerging victorious in the last two.
Fitzgerald, who was named Big Ten Coach of the Year on Tuesday, said he expects his veteran players to use that prior experience to fuel their performance against the Buckeyes.
"Although we may not have played in a Big Ten Championship game, especially our veteran players have played in some big games and also played in bowl games," Fitzgerald said. "It'll be a bowl game-type atmosphere with the fans and the pageantry of the game, and our veterans are used to that type of atmosphere, so you just kind of draw back on those experiences."
If Northwestern wins, it will advance to the Rose Bowl and face the winner of the Pac-12 Championship Game, either No. 17 Utah or No. 11 Washington. Ohio State is still vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff.