Northwestern Football: the Road Map to a Big Ten Title Game Appearance


northwestern wildcats

If you’re tired of seeing Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game all the time, well, a.) you’re far from alone, and b.) it looks like a change could be coming. The Badgers now face very long odds of getting back to Indianapolis this year. The first Saturday in December could see the Badgers football team doing some Christmas shopping, playing blast golf, watching the conference championship games on television or some other type of recreational activity. One thing they probably won’t be doing is playing college football at night in Indy.  

Right now the Big Ten West division championship race is one where Northwestern football is sitting firmly in the driver’s seat right now. The Wildcats could even lose at Iowa two weeks from today, provided that a.) Purdue beats Iowa at home next week and

b.) Northwestern wins their last two Big Ten games: at Minnesota on November 17th, versus Illinois on November 24th. 

Right now, it’s pretty much a two horse race between NU and Iowa, with Purdue the wild card. Hard to imagine that this Northwestern football team, which got off to a dreadful 1-3 start that included embarrassing home losses to Akron and Duke, now controls their own destiny towards a Big Ten championship.

NU is 5-1 in the league, with that one loss to #5 Michigan, a college football playoff caliber team that they held a very late fourth quarter lead on. NU in the non-conference this season?

That’s another article for another time. Let’s take a look at the road map to the city that’s the capital of a state nicknamed “The crossroads of America.”

Nov. 3rd Notre Dame

A non-conference game that we will cover in detail ad nauseam this week, but does not lie in the context of this post

Nov. 10th at Iowa

Quite possibly the de facto Big Ten West title game, which would then make it a sort of sweet sixteen game, if the playoff was eight teams instead of four. Think about it- the Big Ten title game is essentially an elite 8 type of contest right now.

Nov. 17th at Minnesota

The P.J. Fleck hire just doesn’t seem to be working out. There is a whole lot to love about Fleck, but prior to today’s win over Indiana, he had lost eight of his previous nine conference games. Like Lovie Smith at Illinois, it was a bold idea that sounded great in theory/on paper, but a bad fit in reality thus far.

Nov. 24 vs Illinois

Speaking of, Illinois just gave up 712 yards of total offense to Maryland. today. They surrendered 63 points for the 2nd time this season. Illinois gave up 575+ yards for the 5th time (i.e. every single time they have not played a FCS team or FBS team ranked in the 110s and 120s by various metrics).

It seems clear Hardy Nickerson needs to go, but I’m not sure how much that helps Illinois. Ownership of the defense (or lack thereof) rests with Lovie Smith himself.

northwestern football ryan fieldhouse

Northwestern football should definitely cruise here.

So there you have it, a Northwestern football season where 7-5, (7-2 with a chance at the conference crown) seems to be the base expectation as the calendar flips to November. Hard to believe it when, just after the Michigan game, the Wildcats were 1-3 and just making a bowl game seemed the ceiling for the campaign.

Paddy Fisher, the star linebacker that many call “Baby Fitz” summed up how this Northwestern football team has achieved the turnaround up to this point:

“Our mindset was just keep grinding and keep working. We weren’t too worried, we tucked our chin and went to work every day. No one did anything that would hurt our team. And we put ourselves in this position now.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to and Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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