Why Northwestern Will Be Playing in the Big Ten Title Game

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Why Northwestern Will Be Playing in the Big Ten Title Game
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Nebraska's defense will be fine, Michigan was the most complete team in the the Big Ten, and Michigan State's defense alone was good enough to win them the Big Ten. 

Those are all things people assumed over the past three weeks of football and all have been wrong to one degree or another. Despite those teams showing massive inconsistencies they are still being thought of as title contenders.

Yet, no one is seemingly catching on to the Big Ten's most consistently good football team—Northwestern. 

It is that consistency that has Northwestern sitting at 3-0 through three weeks of action and it's that consistency that has them winning games with more than just their offense this season as well. 

Now, of course this isn't a perfect football team (is there one out there this season anywhere in the Big Ten?), but it does just about everything well enough to win football games and that's the important thing. 

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Just like the Buckeyes of Ohio State, Northwestern is also getting it done without the help of its star running back (Venric Mark) and did it without the help of its star quarterback (Kain Colter) for part of the first three weeks. 

Yet, this offense is fourth in the Big Ten in passing (271 yards a game) and fifth in rushing (249 yards a game). Add in a rank of second in team passing efficiency and you begin to see a clear picture of a team that has found a balance that works offensively. 

It works to the tune of 43.3 points per game as well. Any team scoring that much will be in any game they play, regardless of what the defense is doing. 

It's not all offense either. Northwestern's defense is forcing turnovers (8-tied for most in the Big Ten) and allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 56 percent of their passes. 

No team has faced more passing attempts against them than NU, with 150 through three games and yet they still rank in the top half of the Big Ten in completion percentage against. 

On Saturday against Western Michigan, the Wildcats defense allowed just 143 yards to the spread attack head coach P.J. Fleck has put in place. In case you were wondering, that's fewer yards allowed than the vaunted Michigan State defense allowed to the Broncos in Week 1.

This team also doesn't commit a lot of penalties and forces a lot of mistakes from their opponents. Northwestern is fourth in penalties committed, second in penalties forced and second in turnover margin in the Big Ten. 

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Add it all together and you the get the makings of a football team that is capable of winning a lot of football games. 

Now sure, they haven't played a ranked opponent yet, but they are the only team in the Big Ten to play two teams from BCS conferences to date and they came away with blowout wins in both cases. 

Go one step further and the assumptions we made about Michigan and Nebraska now seem a bit off thanks to results this past weekend. Yet, here we sit three weeks into the season and all Northwestern has done has been to put together perhaps the most consistent performance of any team in the Legends Division.

So, why aren't more considering them a realistic division championship contender, again?  

If Northwestern can maintain this consistency in the face of its brutal Big Ten schedule ahead, Indy may see their third different representative from the Legends Division in as many years. 

 

*Andy Coppens is the lead Big Ten writer for Bleacher Report. For more of all things Big Ten follow him on Twitter.

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