Northwestern Looking for Notice

Christian Jones leads team off field after SYR win

Northwestern wants you to notice them. Well, at least the fans do. Pat Fitzgerald probably does not really care. His focus is on the team and going 1-0 this week.

For fans though and those outside the program, little things like making the top-25 matter. They give the program instant credibility and force the media at least to give Northwestern its proper due. Marketing-wise, attention and notice that comes with a top-25 ranking moves the needle. And that is still something the guys in the marketing department care deeply about.

The Wildcats are not quite in the top-25 of the major polls. Despite being the only team in the nation with three wins over BCS-conference opponents, Northwestern does not quite have the respect (granted, GameDay has made the Northwestern game part of the program’s Saturday Selections at the end of the show). Among the bloggers who vote in BlogPoll, Northwestern has squeezed in at No. 23, so at least the bloggers are giving them notice (in fairness, I have the team at No. 25, so I am guilty of underranking NU, I guess).

Not helping is that Northwestern is not blowing out opponents or creating highlight plays. The one ESPN game was as much marked by Trevor Siemian’s amazing pass play to Demetrius Fields and his amazing catch to defeat Syracuse as by the 20-point lead NU lost in that game. Since then, the Wildcats have had games won with gritty, physical play and won in typical Cardiac Cat fashion. That will not create the highlights that the media and “coaches” rely on when they fill out their ballot.

This week will be the week to create some highlights. But not the week to get notice.

Sorry South Dakota, you do not quite have the same ring to your name as others. And unfortunately that is something that still matters in the polls. And the polls, unfortunately, still play a role in getting notice in the crowded college football space.

Maybe there is some precariousness about getting on the Northwestern bandwagon. We do it too because we know from watching this team that Northwestern is liable to lose any game on the schedule. That is why the focus should be fully on South Dakota (even if it is difficult for the fan base to get the same kind of excitement for this game as for the last three).

Notice is coming though.

My good friends at the re-launched Delany’s Dozen talked a bit about how Northwestern is gaining respect and maybe, just maybe, ready to take on the role as shining light int he dark NCAA landscape. And even Rodger Sherman of Sippin’ On Purple is tempting the fates and asking the question about how long NU can remain unbeaten.

Those, of course, are outlets that should be paying attention to Northwestern. It is getting the story out to the national media and getting recognition for what they have accomplished.

Perhaps, the best way to do that is to do what Northwestern has done these last three weeks:

WIN

  • VaWildcat

    I’m thrilled that we’re 3-0, with the wins against decent opponents, and I expect that we’ll be 4-0 after tomorrow, but do we really deserve much attention? There have been some very bright spots and pleasant surprises, but also some bafflers (why is the offense struggling?), and the ‘Cuse and Vandy wins could easily have gone the other way. I’m perfectly happy to fly under the radar for the moment until we really get on track.

    • GradCat

      While I definitely understand the reservation, I still think greater recognition is in order. The “experts” always say that great teams always find a way to win, even if it isn’t pretty, but somehow that mentality only really gets applied to the more historic or hyped teams. NU has done that this year so far and found those ways to win and deserves to be noticed for that nationally.

  • NU68

    Just focus on the first half of the season and turn off the TV for the rest … this is going to get ugly.

    • Lunker35

      Why is it going to get ugly? Because B1G teams have looked so dominant this year? Not a single team on our schedule is unbeatable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roy.lamberton Roy Lamberton

    NU has to go down the field and score TDs tomorrow – and they need to do it often.

    They also need a big defensive day – couple of picks, a bunch of sacks.

    Then some of the national media guys will say to themselves, “what about the Wildcats?”

    • http://www.facebook.com/roy.lamberton Roy Lamberton

      Of course they have to do it again next week against Indy.

    • wcgrad

      All things considered, even if we scored 70 points tomorrow, I doubt no one new would take a second look at us, if they hadn’t been looking already. See: Vanderbilt v. Presbyterian

      • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

        There are currently 26 undefeated teams in the country, that will likely go to 20-ish after this weekend. If Vandy had beaten us, after close USC game that whitewashing wouldn’t have hurt. 58-0 or whatever it was would’ve supported the story arc. i’m convinced if Vandy beat us they’d be right where we are in the AVR

        • wcgrad

          Key phrase: “support the story arc” – that seems to imply people had already taken notice (either through the performance against South Carolina or the hypothetical win over us), NU still needs to beat a team in the top third (~40) of the BCS, or take a national title contender to the limit in order for there to be notice. I think that is a reasonable requirement.

          I see the overhyping of some teams based on reputation instead of results (Hi Nebraska! See ya, Arkansas!) as separate from whether NU is (not) getting deserved attention. A team like Florida state hasn’t beaten someone in the top 40, but you’d have a hard time convincing me that FSU shouldn’t have higher expectations (and more attention) than NU based on perceived overall talent level, if not a tradition of competing for national championships; even though we boast a more impressive resume to date, doesn’t make us a bona fide BCS title contender any more than FSU’s weak schedule disqualifies them from contention.

          Case in point, FSU plays Clemson so we’ll find out how good they are. I’ll gladly beat the drum if we get to 13-0 or 12-1 and are threatened with being excluded from the BCS title game. That’s when I’ll take teams to task for playing cupcakes or claim we’re not getting attention we deserve.

  • Pittsburgh Wildcat

    I’ve said this before, but I truly believe we’re OK with this team flying under the national radar a couple more weeks. Remember, our schedule this year is incredibly back-loaded. If we’re really a top 25 team, we’ll win enough of those games to be ranked, and those kind of wins get you the respect and credibility.

    We really need to be 7-0 headed into Nebraska. Three of the next 4 games are ones we’re absolutely supposed to win (SDak, Ind, Minn). A win at PSU in a couple of weeks would also give the kind of national exposure you’re talking about. No matter your feelings about PSU right now, it’s still a win on the road against a traditionally strong team.

    Although the kickoff time for PSU has been announced, the TV is still TBD. There’s NU @ PSU and MSU @ IU both in the noon eastern/11 am central TV window. One game will be on ESPN2. The other on BTN. That decision gets formalized and announced after this Saturday’s games. For that reason, I would love us to find a way to move into the top 25 after this weekend so we’re that much more attractive to TWWL.

    I hate the fact that a game on ESPN somehow equates to credibility, but we need to get a game on the ESPN family after what would be 4-straight weeks on BTN (Vandy, BC, SDak, IU).

    However, if you look at matchups this weekend, there’s not a lot of opportunities to move in. Arizona (ranked #22) is at Oregon and then there’s Michigan at Notre Dame. But that’s about it barring a major upset.

    I also think it will help us as well if Syracuse knocks off Minnesota in Mpls on Saturday night. Certainly assuming we win vs SDak, that would leave just 2 undefeated B1G teams — NU and tOSU. And we’d obviously be the only bowl-eligible undefeated team. Something that can be pushed to national media for sure.

    • wcgrad

      Extremely well said, it’s hard to say we’ve beaten any juggernauts as of yet. BC, Syracuse and Vanderbilt are all wildcards: they seem to be better than our usual MACrifices and definitely better than losses to the likes of Duke/New Hampshire/Army. But we have no idea if any of those teams will improve from last season. Vanderbilt is behind the eight ball in terms of bowl eligibility, needing to win the rest of the non-conference sked and find a way to go at least 3-5 in the SEC. Syracuse has a brutal non-conference schedule, headlined by U So Cal, Mizzouri, Northwestern and Minnesota. But they do play in the Big East, so maybe they can pick up 5 conference wins. BC seems better than last year, but more than 3 wins in the ACC seems out of the question, or will be a challenge. They also need to win the rest of their non-con match-ups. In short, they all have POTENTIAL to be solid teams, but nothing is proven.

      As for us, I’ll take B1G wins any way we can get them – Minnesota and Indiana would be great wins, though they won’t establish us as a top 25 team. Even beating PSU (on its own) is not enough to solidify a spot (even Ohio (not OSU) managed that).

      I won’t complain about us not being rated until we beat one of Nebraska or Michigan and reach 9-1. Anything before then I’ll gladly take, but I won’t go all Rodney Dangerfield on the “no respect” card.

      • CatsUndefeated

        Some say 9-1. I say 10-0.

  • MF

    Great article in the trib this morning on T. Henry:
    Traveon Henry sprinted down the field Saturday for the first time in his college career. His mission — crush the Boston College ball carrier.

    Instead he got treated like Waffle House hash browns — smothered and diced.

    “He got double-teamed, lifted off his feet and knocked on his can,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He got his lips knocked off. … It was awesome.”

    The really awesome part came next.

    “He got up and still got in on the tackle,” Fitzgerald said. “An impressive play by a young pup. (The late Randy Walker) used to say all the time, ‘If they bite when they’re puppies, look out when they are dogs.’ He has a bright, bright future ahead of him.”

  • RazzmaChas

    RR-R…you actually have NU ranked 23rd on your ballot. You originally wanted to rank them 25th, but you listened to your persuasive readers who convinced you to move them up.

  • cece

    I’m less concerned about notice, whatever that means, and more concerned about bodies getting into the games. there’s actual things that help do that.

    there is one article in the Chicago Tribune each day on this football team. most days there is also one in the Chicago Sun Times. this is notice where it counts, in the Chicago market where bodies can make it to football games. NU is always part of the discussion on football. this will help drive the crowd up. there is certainly more to do.

    but at NU itself, Saturday will tell, even in the rain. it’s the first saturday with kids at school. will they show up? what is the campus mentality for attendance? what is the program to get kids there, by affinity group, by dorm? with 8,000 undergrads, we certainly cannot fill the stadium. but undergraduate attendance can go a long way to getting people in the stands. what about graduate students? do we know what they do on campus to get people to the games? what else can be done to make a cultural shift to get people to take a break on a Saturday?

    note to those admitting students, it used to be that NU applicants were characterized as well rounded, future business leader types. do you still look for kids with high academic AND high outside activities? enthusiasm for at least one trip outside the library a week is a healthy thing to look for in applicants.

    • VaWildcat

      I’m not involved in Admissions, but I’ve heard Morty talk several times about the kinds of kids they’re looking for and also about the experience they’re hoping to create–really trying to build campus spirit and making the undergrad life more than just classes. The new student week, now called Wildcat Welcome, is filled with stuff and it sounds like it starts kids off on the right foot. With Morty wandering the sidelines of football games (and some other sports, too), I would think he’s setting a pretty great example.

  • CatInTheHat

    I can’t believe I’m saying this (because, again, I’m usually first on the “no respect” bandwagon), but I think we’re about where we should be in terms of national ink. Looking at the T25, and specifically 20-25 in each poll, and I see teams that are as good as or arguably better than we are (we are in the neighborhood of an Arizona, Mississippi State, Boise State, so I think we’re close–but even Oklahoma State, who is also solidly in the 20-25 range, embarrassed its FCS opponent to the tune of 84-0!).
    As things stand right now, I think we’re a 30-ish team, but not a solid Top 25 team. Make no mistake–I would love to see us in the Top 25 any week, and I don’t really care who our company is or whether it’s “deserved.” However, I think we’re getting some credit (we’re in just about everyone’s power ranking, and I was especially grateful for the love that SI gave us in acknowledging that we have scheduled admirably and suggesting that others follow our lead). I hate to sound unsportsmanlike, but we need to start creating separation on the scoreboard between us and our opponents, and that has to begin with a statement tomorrow. Beating middle-of-the-pack teams like BC by narrow margins gives the coaches and the media a reason to ignore us. Beat SD 50-0 or 60-7 (or even 45-7), and we’ll turn enough heads to enter the Top 25 in one of the polls if other cards fall our way. However, if it’s 35-14, do we really deserve to be T25 when other T25 teams are annhilating their cupcake opponents by 80+ points? After tomorrow, W’s matter the most, and the more W’s we collect, the more respect we’ll earn. That said, we need to win huge tomorrow and preferably beat Indiana and Minnesota by two or more scores if we want more recognition sooner.

    • AdamDG

      Boise St. is not good. They were soundly beaten by MSU, barely beat a limping BYU team, and beat terrible Miami (OH). I don’t see where the hype is coming from.

      • CatInTheHat

        Fair enough, but look at our resume: We blew a huge lead and were very lucky to barely beat a “just o.k.” Syracuse team; we beat a mediocre Vanderbilt team and a bad BC squad (and those wins look better on paper than they actually were due to late scores). Play like we have these first few games, and I’m not sure we wouldn’t get soundly beaten by MSU. I’m not sure we’d beat BYU, either. I’m not trying to be pessimistic–I think this team’s best football is in front of it, and I’m excited about what might happen this year. However, I don’t think that our season thus far has warranted much more recognition than we’re already getting.

        • AdamDG

          BYU’s passing game is atrocious and we’ve proven we can beat decent-to-good passing teams. We’ve also been stout against the run. I really don’t see us losing to them.

          And although the score was close, MSU dominated TOP and outgained BSU by a wide margin. Bell ran all over them.

          ‘Cuse has a decent chance at going to a bowl game, Vandy will likely be a middle-of-the-road SEC team, and although BC sucks, they’re a hell of a lot better than Miami Ohio.

          Boise St., like many other teams ahead of us in the polls, is there due to reputation — and little else. I mean, look at some of these wins:
          Miss St has beaten:
          – Auburn (not good)
          – Troy (LOL)
          – Jackson State (note: Walter Payton no longer plays there)

          Nebraska has beaten:
          – Southern Miss
          – Arkansas State

          I don’t see how you can argue they deserve to be ahead of NU.

          • CatInTheHat

            I never said that. I said that we are similar in quality to those teams (though I didn’t mention Nebraska–they look mediocre but, again, not definitively better or worse than NU). If we were ranked ahead of the Boise States and Mississippi States of the world, it wouldn’t shock me, but I also am not shocked or offended that we are behind them right now. Lots of grey area at this point. Just as there is no clear argument that those teams should be ahead of NU at this particular moment in time, there is definitely no clear argument to the contrary, either.

  • Mark

    I’m not a fan of the games like South Dakota, but if the Cats and others want to play them I’d like to see them sandwiched between Big 10 conference games. The SEC has done this for a number of years and it gives teams a game that week – but an easier one and possibly one where the injured can sit out.

  • Darren Meyers

    I know it’s a small thing, but my measure of respect isn’t the polls; I agree with Fitrz that they don’t matter until a few games into conference play. Rather, my gripe is that given how many NU alums work at ESPN, why do we get the N’Western treatment? Can’t everyone just follow BTN’s lead and have us as NU in the scoreboard?

  • Plobojo

    The whole tone of the comments this week read as if tomorrow is a scrimmage. IT IS NOT. Everyone is worried about tv coverage in two or three weeks or how high the score or whether NU is #23, 24 or 28. Focus on tomorrow; making blocks, catching the ball, making the tackle. SD will put 11 players on the field as did New Hampshire and Army. Again, focus on this game; then hopefully, after taking care of business, write away!!

    • VaWildcat

      You’re right about the game, but WE’RE not the people who need to be focusing on this game. I trust that Fitz and the players have their focus on the right team, judging by what they’ve said publicly. Our fantasizing has no impact (other than to make a loss if it happens that much harder to swallow)

    • Wildcatneighbor

      VaWildcat beat me to the punch, but I won’t be doing any blocking tomorrow, except maybe the tv screen…

  • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

    Spoiler alert – future post on this. How about the Trib article today revealing that NU had a buy-out option in place for the Notre Dame 2018 game in Evanston? Based on the ACC deal, ND has said that the NU game is very important to them as they’ll have to get out of at least 2 deals that season based on overbooking their schedule. My perfect world scenario is that they take the buyout – we make money on them and then can market the heck out of the fact that ND bowed out of a game with us in Evanston b/c they were scared to play us.

    • ende

      Can’t stand Notre Dame a touch more than how much I can’t stand the University of Central Illinois

  • PDXCat

    On a related note concerning exposure, I was just watching an episode of Criminal Minds from last season. Two of the characters are in some kind of office and chatting. On top of a bookshelf in the background sits an NU football helmet. Pretty obvious product placement. So, the NU folks at CBS are getting our face out there, now for the NU folks at ESPN . . .

  • Matt

    Some needed focus: 9/11/2010: South Dakota 41 Minnesota 38.

West Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Nebraska3000
Minnesota2100
Iowa2100
Illinois2100
Wisconsin1100
Purdue1200
Northwestern 0200

East Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Penn State3010
Maryland2100
Ohio State2100
Michigan2100
Michigan State2100
Indiana1100
Rutgers2101