Not much has been said nationally about this year's edition of Northwestern football. All the talk in the Big Ten has been about expansion, OSU, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
Northwestern has quietly gone 3-0 with wins on the road at Vandy and Rice and a home win over FCS foe Illinois State.
On paper that doesn't look overly impressive since the opponents have combined for just two FBS wins, but for the Cats it shows that they are not looking past anyone and have their sights set on making a Big Ten run.
So why should they be getting more respect?
Well, for one, Pat Fitzgerald, or Coach Fitz, has a group of guys that are now all his and are buying into the program. It is always important to have guys that can step right in and start, like Dan Persa or Jack DiNardo, who are replacing leaders like Mike Kafka and Corey Wootton, who are now in the NFL.
Another reason was mentioned above: They have not played down to their opponents this year.
Even during their runs in 1995 and 1996, they lost to far inferior teams in Miami of Ohio and Wake Forest early in the year. More recently under Coach Fitz, they have nearly lost to Eastern Michigan in 2009 and back in his first year lost to New Hampshire.
Another reason is the play of Dan Persa, who at one point this season was the nation's top-rated passer. In the system that the Wildcats run, you can overcome a lot of areas where you aren't so good just by having a smart dual-threat QB like Persa.
So far Persa has thrown for 769 yards and six scores while completing 81 percent of his passes. On the ground he has run for over 100 yards and two scores. Simply put, offensively the Cats will go as far as he can take them.
Also on the offensive side of the ball, super back Drake Dunsmore is emerging as the key go-to guy over the middle, while Jeremy Ebert continues to be a deep threat in Persa's arsenal.
The one area of concern is the running game, where hopefully sophomore Arby Fields can figure out how to find the holes his veteran line is making for him.
Defense is where the Cats will win games. Currently the Cats are eighth in the nation in points against and have recorded six INTs with one being returned for a score.
The front seven is as solid as we have seen in recent years with guys like DiNardo, Quentin Williams, Quentin Davie, and a host of others that have stepped in and played solid football.
As far as what is upcoming for the Cats, well, they get a real test this weekend against Central Michigan at home. This will be the game that tests out the secondary to see how they fare against an offense that can wing it around.
After that is a trip to Minnesota to take on a team that is losing confidence each and every week under Tim Brewster.
Then a night game under the lights against a turnover-prone Purdue team follows that.
Realistically the Cats could be 6-0 heading into the Michigan State game, which is a home game. This will be the true test to see if the Cats are a middle of the pack team or a top-tier Big Ten team.
Plus, remember that both Ohio State and Michigan are off the schedule this year, meaning that Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State are the toughest teams the Cats will see.
Northwestern simply should be getting some more talk around the nation than they are now. It is not the 1995 team that was shocking top teams left and right, but it is still good.
And if Lou Holtz wants to predict any more upsets of Northwestern, all I can say is don't be bitter over 1995...