EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Now, Northwestern can see how it stacks up against the rest of the Big Ten.
The Wildcats open conference play against Indiana on Saturday with a perfect record through four games that includes three wins over BCS opponents. In a conference that's taken its share of hits so far, Northwestern is standing tall with the Hoosiers (2-1) up next.
"I think they should be pleased with the fact that we found a way to win four games," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "And I think through that, we should be a very confident football team."
And why not?
The Wildcats are trying to go to 5-0 for the third time in five years after narrow wins over Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College along with a breather against South Dakota last week, and they own three of the Big Ten's six wins over BCS conference opponents and Notre Dame.
For a team that was fifth in the Legends division in the first year of divisional play, this is certainly a good start. It hasn't been a breeze, though.
It took a late touchdown pass from Trevor Siemian to Demetrius Fields to lift the Wildcats to a 42-41 victory at Syracuse, and they didn't score a touchdown until the fourth quarter against Vanderbilt and Boston College, before blowing out South Dakota, 38-7. Yet here they are, unbeaten and trying to establish themselves as a true force in the Big Ten.
As competitive as Northwestern has been over the last decade and a half, that's one area where it's fallen short. Still, the Wildcats are always dangerous even if they tend to start fading from the spotlight around this time of the year.
"They do a lot of things that I like in building a program," said Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, an offensive coordinator under Randy Walker at Northwestern. "Pat was there with Coach (Gary) Barnett and they kind of flipped it. Coach Barnett coached there for seven seasons. They had two really good winning seasons where they won the championship and co-championship. When Coach (Randy) Walker came in I was a part of that. Pat came in at the tail part of that and I think he's got a little bit of Coach Barnett's thoughts with some of Coach Walker's thoughts on how to run the program — play good defense, stop the run, kick it well. They've won a boatload of close games for a long time. They've got a nice thing going on up there, so it's a good challenge."