That's really all that needs to be said about the 2012 Northwestern Wildcats...they are 4-0.
Think about it. It might stun you. From 2002-2005, Northwestern won 26 games and lost 22 games. Northwestern spent the majority of that time in the middle or at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, finishing a high of fifth place in 2005 and a low of 10th in 2002. When you think about Big Ten football, Northwestern is never a team that stands out.
Well, things are about to change.
Northwestern stands currently at 4-0, the best start for the 'Cats since 2010. In his brief 6 seasons as the head coach of Northwestern, Pat Fitzgerald has brought a new attitude to Northwestern football: winning.
In six seasons, he stands at 44-36. For some schools, this might not be an impressive stat; for Northwestern, this makes all the difference. In the mid-1990s, Northwestern emerged as a football program, winning the Big Ten Championship in 1996 and going on to lose the Rose Bowl that year. Pat Fitzgerald played linebacker for that version of Wildcat football.
Once again, things are starting to come together in Evanston. Fitzgerald and his crew have been the biggest surprise of the Big Ten thus far this season. Sure, they look inconsistent occasionally; sure, they don't have the same caliber of talent as Michigan or Ohio State, but what Northwestern has brought to the Big Ten this season is hope.
This is a down year for the prominent conference. When you look at how the Big Ten has played in the non-conference portion of the season, there seems to be little to no positives—except for Northwestern.
Three weeks ago, Northwestern played at Ryan Stadium against a good Vanderbilt football team. In that game at Ryan Field, Northwestern outscored Vandy 17-3 in the fourth quarter, marking the first Big Ten victory against an SEC team this season. The next week they beat Boston College with little problem.
The atmosphere has changed at Northwestern.
Victories are becoming more prominent and bowl games are coming every year. Northwestern has been to five straight bowl games and looks to go to No. 6 this season. Given the play of the Northwestern offense, they could even be looking at a chance to play for the Rose Bowl.
The only problem that exists in Evanston is the defense. Through the first four games, Northwestern has given up an average of 367.5 yards per game. The Cats' defense is currently ranked 62nd in the nation. Whereas the rush defense has been dominate (ranked 12th best in the country), the pass defense has been weak (giving up 294.8 yards per game; ranked 112th in the country). Although the pass D is horrid, Northwestern has been able to complement the weak D with a very strong offense.
The problem that emerges is the upcoming conference season. If Pat Fitzgerald can get his passing D to start performing better, then Northwestern has a very good chance at going deep in the Big Ten and possibly upsetting a few teams en route to a conference championship game.
Overall, the non-conference portion of the schedule has been very kind to Northwestern. As the conference schedule begins, a lot will be learned about the talent of this 'Cats team. If Northwestern can continue and build off of this fast start, Pat Fitzgerald could be in consideration for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Given his accomplishments already at Northwestern, it is amazing that he has yet to win this very prestigious award.