When I checked the Associated Press Top 25 poll Sunday afternoon, I didn’t see a little number next to Northwestern’s name. I should have.
I’m not suggesting that a win against South Dakota all of a sudden proves that the Wildcats are the team to beat in the Big Ten, but it adds more strength to NU’s resume. And that resume was fairly diversified to begin with.
We’ve seen this team come back late. We’ve seen them take down a more talented squad. We’ve seen them win despite not playing their best. And now we’ve seen them put away a team they clearly outclassed. We know the kids can play.
The Cats have beaten three BCS teams so far this season, something no other school in the nation can claim. Are either Syracuse, Vanderbilt or Boston College intimidating teams? No. But most would argue that they’re solid at worst, with Vanderbilt possibly a team to watch.
Now, I can forgive the voters for wanting to see a win against a Big Ten opponent before deciding that NU belongs among the nation’s best teams. I get that. Non-conference heroes are often pummeled by tougher competition. But beating Indiana won’t tell us anything we don’t already know. This team is good.
So our next problem becomes finding a team to bump off the list, but no worries there. I have a few ideas toward the bottom of the poll, some more legitimate than others.
No. 24 Boise State beat Brigham Young 7-6 on Thursday and fell to a weak Michigan State team in their opener. Few would argue that BYU is a good team — no offense intended to the Cougars — and the loss to the Spartans is looking less and less forgivable.
And speaking of the Spartans, No. 20 Michigan State had some serious struggles with Eastern Michigan on the heels of getting trounced by Notre Dame. Perhaps the loss of quarterback Kirk Cousins is proving too much to handle.
Seeing Rutgers in the top 25 is a little disorienting, and the fact that 4-0 Louisville is ranked even higher leaves me feeling like I need a shower. Point is, I feel as though NU has a case of being as good or better than all of these teams. Which would make them ranked.
Admittedly, these ranking systems are a little flawed, and the difference between No. 25 and receiving the most votes of any unranked team is probably negligible.
The ranking, or lack thereof, probably means little to Fitz or the team. But it means a lot to me, and it means a lot to the student body. It’s verification that we are who we think we are. It says we’re more than a non-conference bully. It reassures us that we can compete, not just for a bowl berth, but for a Big Ten title.
Four straight wins have this school thinking big. And they should. This team is among the best 25 in the country. After next week, they’ll have the little number to prove it.