Northwestern believes it has as good a shot as any to finish atop the West Division in the Big Ten Conference.

The Wildcats will try to continue working toward that long-range goal when they host Miami (Ohio) in their final nonconference game on Saturday night in Evanston, Ill.

Northwestern (1-2) has opened the season with three straight games that ended in one-possession differences, winning the first 31-28 against Nebraska in Dublin, Ireland. However, a 31-23 loss to Duke and a 31-24 setback against Southern Illinois have stifled momentum.

“We can choose to be whatever we want to be,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We could be a team that achieves goals and fights and learns from these things, or you can go the other way, and the other way is not the alternative that we’re going to allow. So the pedal will be down.”

Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski threw for 435 yards against Duke two weeks ago and running back Evan Hull leads the nation with an average of 217.3 all-purpose yards per game, but Fitzgerald was disappointed with how the offense performed in the loss to Southern Illinois last week.

“We just seemed to have way too much inconsistency offensively with ball security, our inability to kind of hit explosives like we had been through the first couple weeks,” Fitzgerald said.

Miami (1-2) will be trying to bounce back after giving up 31 unanswered points in a 38-17 loss to Cincinnati last week.

It was the RedHawks’ 16th consecutive loss against the Bearcats.

“We’re not a good team yet,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said on Monday.

RedHawks quarterback Aveon Smith will make his third straight start in place of Brett Gabbert, a third-team All-Mid-American Conference pick last season who has an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. Gabbert likely will be sidelined the rest of the season.

Smith was 9-for-21 for 116 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against Cincinnati.

“‘AV’ continues to grow,” Martin said. “With a new starting quarterback, the package shrinks down a little bit, but his execution is getting better. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

–Field Level Media