It’s time to praise and assess the Northwestern, the American anomaly and the current near-lock to make the Big Ten Conference Championship for the second time in three years.
In a season of great scoring, the 5-0 Wildcats are built to stifle opponents with defense and win methodical battles in field position. The national scoring average is 29.6 points per game. Kamp pr. Keep within reach of the record of the 30-time, and here is the Northwest Pudding with 25.8 – and currently undefeated.
Wisconsin went into Ryan Field with an average of 47 points per game – with a admittedly small sample size that had played twice – scoring seven against Purple. Not a badger drive created the red zone; their only touchdown came on a 49-yard bomb in the first quarter. After only committing a turnover in two games, Wisconsin had five Saturdays, including the first three interceptions of hotshot novice quarterback Graham Mertz̵
For the fourth time in five games, Northwestern struck a shutout in the second half. The longer the game goes, the stronger the defense gets.
This is a huge Pat Fitzgerald victory: gritty, resilient and completely happy to win a battle from a game that ends with just a few more games made by his team than the opponent. But it did not make sense for Northwestern to be a one-touchdown underdog – not before the game and not after.
“We expected this,” Fitzgerald said. “This does not surprise anyone in our program. This was not an anger tonight in our locker room. We fully expected it. ”
We got Feisty Fitz, Chip On The Shoulder Fitz, Dare to Disrespect Us Fitz postgame. When ESPN analyst Joe Galloway said earlier this week that the Wildcats had “a bunch of Rece Davises running around,” it immediately became material from the Northwest bulletin board.
“It really marked our guys, I do not want to lie,” Fitzgerald said. “I thought it was incredibly disrespectful. And it’s not the first time.”
After the disrespect comes the respect. How should Northwestern be ranked?
SI Top Ten beat the Wildcats No. 9 last week, while the AP had the Wildcats 19th and coaches the 20th. This week, they take a significant pull up – and based on the strength of the schedule, they should perhaps be even higher.
Ohio State’s 5-0 is built against the Big Ten team with an overall record of 6-12. Northwestern’s 5-0 is built against the Big Ten team with an overall record of 10-9. The Buckeyes have name tags and offensive style points … but they’ve played a decent team so far.
Ultimately, however, these two teams are on track to settle it on the field on Dec. 19 in Indianapolis. Just do not go with criticizing it as an easy win for Ohio State.
Now on to the top ten:
Last match: Beat Kentucky, 63-3
Next match: Auburn Saturday
Even by Alabama standards, it was a vicious whipping of the feral cats. Crimson Tide surpassed the Wildcats by 330 yards and let the reserves do most of the work in the second half. Nick Saban’s team has given up to three points in total in the last two games. Now comes what should be a bloodthirsty game for ‘Bama. Auburn knocked out the College Football Playoffs a year ago – and while the Tigers have been playing better in recent weeks, they will be significant underdogs at Tuscaloosa.
Last match: Beat Boston College, 45-31, November 14th
Next game: On North Carolina Friday
After a week of rest and healing of some bodies, Fighting Irish enters an interesting Black Friday game in Chapel Hill. This is a good quarterback matchup, with Ian Book playing the best football of his life (nearly 750 yards total offense the last two games) against Tar Heels gunman Sam Howell (leading ACC in passing efficiency, Trevor Lawrence included). The difference: Notre Dame also has a defense; UNC not so much.
Last game: Lost to Notre Dame, 47-40, November 7th
Next game: Pittsburgh Saturday
It’s now more than a month between games for Trevor Lawrence after the bizarre late postponement of the Florida State game Saturday morning for COVID-19 editions. Florida State reportedly reported playing the Tigers after one of their offensive linebackers tested positive after arriving in Tallahassee and traveling with the team. Clemson was clearly not happy with the decision. This is life in 2020, when nothing is guaranteed and games can evaporate at any time. Presumably, Lawrence will still remember how the whole quarterback thing works when he finally gets to play again.
4. Ohio State
Last game: Beat Indiana, 42-35
Next game: in Illinois Saturday
As my colleague Ross Dellenger wrote on Saturday, the victory over the Hoosiers – while significant – was another example of Ohio State failing to finish as a dominant team. Give absolute credit to Indiana, which is a legitimate team, but the Buckeyes have a defense that so far has not been able to close the door on opponents. Giving up 491 past yards, the most since 1985, will leave some doubt in.
Last match: Beat UCF, 36-33
Next match: at Temple Saturday
The Bearcats passed their biggest test of the season against the Knights, falling behind 14-3 early and 25-22 in the fourth quarter before taking command. It was another great performance from quarterback Desmond Ridder, who piled up nearly 400 yards total offense and four total touchdowns by leading the multiple comebacks. Luke Fickell made things interesting with some weird decisions in the final two minutes, but it all worked out for the strongest Group of Five playoff contestant.
FORDE: Desmond Ridder’s Rise has been the perfect off-script
Last game: Beat Wisconsin, 17-7
Next game: in Michigan State Saturday
The Wildcats simply need to get past the Spartans, Minnesota and Illinois (combined record 5-9) to end the Big Ten regular season undefeated for the first time in 25 years and an overall undefeated regular season for the first time … ever.
7. Texas A&M
Last match: Beat South Carolina, 48-3, on November 7th
Next match: LSU Saturday
Aggies has basically disappeared due to two weeks of COVID-19 releases. Their readiness to resume play will be crucial because they may need some style points to stay in strong contention for an endgame. Their position ahead of Florida is based on the head-to-head victory in October.
Last game: Beat Vanderbilt, 38-17
Next game: Kentucky Saturday
The Gators have not led any of their last three games after a quarter, but they have led by a bunch at the end. Florida has scored 38 or more points each game, maintaining Kyle Trask’s stature as a top Heisman Trophy candidate. The road to Atlanta and an SEC championship game against Alabama remains pretty smooth and straightforward.
Last game: Beat North Alabama, 66-14
Next game: San Diego State December 12th
In terms of playoff battle, the Cougars needed to beat Alabama. Or even UAB. Not North Alabama, an overmatched FCS school. This victory achieved nothing, and unless a new game is arranged between now and the season finale against the Aztecs, BYU is running out of quality wind opportunities.
Last game: Beat UCLA, 38-35
Next game: in Oregon State Friday
The Ducks become the first Pac-12 team to overtake the SI Top Ten after winning a ping-pong match with the Bruins. Oregon needs work defensively after giving up 462 yards and 35 points for a UCLA team playing its backup quarterback. But his own QB, Tyler Shough, had another big game (334 passing yards, three touchdowns). The best thing that can happen to Oregon is that Washington continues to roll (2-0) and creates a big game for the Pac-12 North Championship on December 12th.
Also considered: Indiana, Coastal Carolina, Marshall, Miami, Colorado, Nevada