Don’t look now, but the Northwestern Wildcats are 4-0. If you listen very carefully, you can probably hear ESPN’s Michael Wilbon shouting from the rooftops. So things are probably pretty bad in the Big 10 if conference proponents are hitching their wagons to the Wildcats, but Northwestern may be better than you think.
So far in 2012 the Wildcats have proved they can win in many different ways. They opened the year with a shootout 42-41 win over the Syracuse Orange, who are one of the top passing teams in the nation. Then they beat an SEC team in the Vanderbilt Commodores. I know it’s only Vanderbilt, but it’s not every day a Big 10 squad tops an SEC team. They followed that up by beating the Boston College Eagles in a bit of a defensive struggle. Then most recently, they easily handled the South Dakota Coyotes in a dominant victory.
While their schedule so far may not be what you would call impressive, they way they have taken care of business has been. Many other Big 10 teams have not been so capable. The Michigan Wolverines can’t win a big game, and are serving up more turnovers than Martha Stewart. The Michigan State Spartans and Wisconsin Badgers both have one loss, and have looked anything but dominate in recent weeks. The Nebraska Cornhuskers seem beatable, and the Ohio State Buckeyes, arguably the conference’s strongest team, are not bowl eligible this year.
At the moment, the Wildcats have the age old recipe for success in football. They can run the ball and play solid defense. Northwestern has averaged 200 yards a game on the ground this season, and are only giving up 18 points per contest. Running back Venric Mark led the way on Saturday against the Coyotes, scampering for 117 yards and three rushing touchdowns. What makes the Wildcats so dangerous though is they are producing by committee. For instance, they had six players rush for double digit yardage against South Dakota.
Northwestern starts their Big 10 schedule next week and there will no doubt be some tests. One thing they do have going for them is that they don’t have the Buckeyes as an opponent in 2012. While running the table may be a real challenge, finishing with one loss isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
The most anticipated match-up, and one that could ultimately go a long way in deciding who wins the conference, is when the Wildcats face the 4-0 Minnesota Golden Gophers on October 13th. Who would have thought that coming into the season? Or ever, for that matter.