Big Ten

Though perhaps unlikely, Northwestern has sights on New Year's Six bowl

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Though perhaps unlikely, Northwestern has sights on New Year's Six bowl

Can Northwestern still reach one of college football's most illustrious bowl games?

Pat Fitzgerald doesn't see why not.

After a 5-0 start, back-to-back losses to Michigan and Iowa seemed to snuff out any chances of a storybook season for the Cats. It's hard to make the Big Ten title game with a pair of conference losses. It's almost impossible to make the College Football Playoff with more than one loss.

A Big Ten West Division championship hasn't been mathematically ruled out quite yet, but it would be if Iowa wins next week. The Cats would need the currently undefeated Hawkeyes to lose two of their last three games — all of which come against teams with losing records — to force a potential three-way tie atop the West Division and sneak into the Big Ten title game on a tiebreaker.

But that's very, very unlikely.

[MORE BIG TEN: Even after loss, Spartans still control own destiny in Big Ten]

So what's the best Northwestern can do if it finishes with two losses — that would require three victories over Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois to end the regular season — and doesn't even compete in the conference title game?

One of the four New Year's Six bowls that isn't a College Football Playoff semifinal is a possibility, and that's based on the fact that the playoff selection committee likes the Cats a lot. Northwestern was ranked No. 21 in this season's inaugural playoff rankings, and that ranking will likely improve this week with a good deal of ranked teams losing and Northwestern beating formerly 7-2 Penn State. The Cats have one of the toughest schedules in the country and claim a win over top-10 Stanford.

But a lot of stuff would have to happen for the Cats to get a spot in one of those prestigious bowl games. A lot of undefeated and one-loss teams across the country would have to become two-loss teams to even compare. But the truth is that Northwestern might not end up one of the four highest-ranked teams in its own conference. Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan are all ranked higher and should they keep winning will remain ranked higher. Including the playoff, there could be room for maybe three Big Ten teams in the New Year's Six bowls. There will not be room for five.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Northwestern gear right here]

But Fitzgerald isn't letting odds dictate his team's aspirations.

The head coach spoke Saturday following the win over Penn State about the possibility of reaching a big-time bowl game and that he's preaching to his players that they should have their eyes on that prize.

“We come into the College Football Playoff (rankings) at 21. We’re in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl," Fitzgerald said. "You’ve got to take it one at a time, but what a great testament to what we’ve been through. I think going into (Saturday’s) game we had like the eighth-toughest schedule in the country and the toughest in the Big Ten. Beat a seven-win team today, that should do nothing but help our strength of schedule. Finding a way to win, win and advance. We’re kind of in that playoff mentality right now.

"Got a lot of goals left in front of us, and I’m not going to shy away from it with the guys. It’s reality. You work your tail off for 11 months to make November significant, and obviously it’s significant for us right now.”

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.