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    'Cats Begin to Taper On-Field Prep for Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Northwestern has spent the last two days practicing at Rice Stadium in Houston, home of the Rice University Owls.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Northwestern has spent the last two days practicing at Rice Stadium in Houston, home of the Rice University Owls.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    Dec. 28, 2011

    Wednesday Post-Practice Interviews on Wildcats All-Access

    'Cats look to lose the 'Bowl Monkey' Watch Video
    Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald Watch Video
    Senior QB Dan Persa Watch Video
    Senior S Brian Peters Watch Video
    Def. Coordinator Mike Hankwitz Watch Video

    HOUSTON, Texas -- Only three full days remain before the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN) and the Wildcats' Wednesday practice at Rice Stadium reflected a shift in their preparation. NU practiced for a brief but energetic 10 periods -- which amounts to little more than an hour -- under sunny skies and in temperatures that climbed into the 60's.

    Following practice, head coach Pat Fitzgerald spoke about the potentially hostile environment the Wildcats will face with more than 50,000 Texas A&M fans likely to fill Reliant Stadium in Houston.

    "We'd be foolish not to (prepare as if it's a road game), 90 miles away and so many Houstonians that are Aggies from graduation or from birth, right?" Fitzgerald said Wednesday. "We understand the situation we're getting into and we've played pretty well on the road if you look at our record over time."

    Mike Hankwitz, now in his fourth season as defensive coordinator at Northwestern, spent six seasons on the Texas A&M staff from 1997-2002, serving as the defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach. Hankwitz directed the Aggies' famed "Wrecking Crew" defense, which during his tenure featured three top-10 defenses, two more in the top 20 and helped Texas A&M claim two South Division titles and one Big 12 championship. Among Hankwitz' standout players in College Station was Dat Nguyen, who won the Lombardi and Bednarik Awards and who was named Chevrolet Defensive Player of the Year in 1998.

    "I really enjoyed my time there, the people were great, the spirit of Aggieland is something special," Hankwitz said. "They've got a ton of alums down here and they always travel well so we're preparing like it's a road game for us."

    Other items of note on Northwestern following its Wednesday practice:

    • The strong support of Wildcat fans in Texas continued on Wednesday, this time in the form of members of the NU Alumni Club of Houston who came out to Rice Stadium to watch practice and snap a few photos with members of the team.

    • After taking in an improv comedy show Tuesday evening, Northwestern will get another taste of the local entertainment scene in Houston Wednesday night at the annual Rodeo Bowl. The event is set at George Ranch, a 480-acre living historical site located on a 23,000-acre working ranch. It will pit members of NU and Saturday's opponent, Texas A&M, in a variety of games including mascot roping, calf branding (using chalk rather than a hot brand) and a touchdown dance contest. After the competition winds down, the teams will be treated to a barbecue dinner at the ranch. (Be sure to look for a video recap of the evening's festivities on NUsports.com later on!)

    • The Big Ten announced on Wednesday a partnership with the Pac-12 Conference that by 2017 will result in each of the leagues' 24 football programs to play at least one game against a school from the other conference. The collaborative effort also extends beyond football into men's and women's basketball and other Olympic sports. Northwestern football previously has announced a home-and-home series with Pac-12 member California (2013-14) and a four-game set against Stanford beginning in 2019.

    "Obviously where recruiting is going and where realignment is going, our long-term partnership with the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl and the academic missions of the institutions makes a lot of sense," Fitzgerald said. "You can see the success in basketball with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. For us, our branding and our national exposure, it's going to be really important. It's going to be tough to win, but that's what we want, that's what our fans want and that's what our players want."

    • ESPN has announced that in addition to the live TV broadcast on the original network, the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas also will be streamed online at ESPN3.com. Click here for the direct link to the game on Saturday.

    • Finally, on Saturday, senior offensive lineman Al Netter will suit up for the final time as a Wildcat and start for a school-record 52nd game in a row. But Netter has one additional stop remaining on this bowl trip: the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3 in New Orleans. Netter is one of 11 players in FBS football that will be formally recognized for their selection to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team® during halftime of the Sugar Bowl at the Superdome.

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