Most important game: Northwestern

It's time to dive back into our series looking at the most important game on the 2012 schedule for each Big Ten squad. As a reminder, these are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.

Let's take a look today at the Northwestern Wildcats:

Most important game: Nov. 24 vs. Illinois

Why it's important: The Northwestern-Illinois series is starting to become more of a rivalry, with the Wildcats billing themselves as "Chicago's Big Ten team" and new Illini coach Tim Beckman refusing to wear purple. That's a good thing, since Northwestern doesn't have many natural rivals. The bad news is, Pat Fitzgerald's team has lost this game the past two years, robbing itself of any potential bragging rights in the Windy City and beyond. He certainly doesn't want to see that losing streak stretch to three, especially with this year's game in Evanston and with Beckman getting his first taste of the budding rivalry. Northwestern doesn't always have the most intimidating home field environment, but there should be plenty of fans on hand for this one. And coming at the end of the season as it does, following a brutal stretch in which the Wildcats play Nebraska and Iowa followed by road games to both Michigan schools, this game could make a big difference in their postseason possibilities. Northwestern wouldn't be a very attractive bowl team if it ended the year on a three-game losing streak, and its claim in the rivalry wouldn't be very strong with three straight losses to that team from Champaign.