By Paul M. BanksÂ
By winning at Iowa a couple weeks ago, the Northwestern Wildcats extended their best start in 46 years. In 1962, Northwestern began the year 6-0 and was ranked No. 1 nationally for two consecutive weeks. The Wildcats’ five-game winning streak is their longest since 1996, the senior season of current Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald. Experts are comparing this teamâ€™s defense to the â€œPurple Pasadenaâ€ season of 1995. Halfway into the season however, the â€™08 team has accomplished one thing that all three (â€™95, â€™96, â€™00) modern era Conference Championship teams did not. All three Big 10 championship squads dropped an early pre-conference game to an inferior opponent: 95-Miami of Ohio, 96-Wake Forest, 00- TCU/ This yearâ€™s squad, by contrast, won all the games they were favored to win. And itâ€™s created a bit of a buzz on campus.
â€œIâ€™ve seen some people on campus decide to jump on the bandwagon. We donâ€™t want to be known as only an academic school; we want to be known for great academics and athletics. We want people to stop wearing Michigan or Ohio St. shirts, and start representing our school and bleeding purple. Itâ€™s ok to have bandwagon jumpers, but we also want people who will support us all the way from an 0-11 season to a 12-0 season,â€ senior tailback Tyrell Sutton said.
That buzz is poised to grow when you consider that Northwestern is one of just 15 unbeaten FBS programs, and that status brought them into this week’s USA Today Coaches (22) and Harris Interactive (23) national polls. Their opponent Saturday, Michigan State, also found themselves in the top-25 (No. 23/19/21, AP/USA Today/Harris). The Spartans, winners of their last five, feature a Heisman trophy candidate in senior tailback Javon Ringer. Nationally, heâ€™s second in rushing yards per game and first in touchdowns this season. Ringerâ€™s averages are also second in all-purpose yards and third in scoring.
â€œWhen I look at the tape it doesnâ€™t take long to see the success their offensive line has had in opening wholes for arguably, if not the best back in the big ten, then one of the best, and also in the country. Heâ€™s a very physical back with great patience, plays well behind his pads and seems like he gets stronger as the game goes along,â€ Fitzgerald said.ÂFollow paulmbanks