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Bold prediction: Northwestern will crack the top 25

The Cats started last season in the top 25. That's where they'll end next season.

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Before the start of the 2013 season we looked into our (BCS) crystal (foot)ball and released 10 bold Northwestern football predictions. Needless to say they didn’t go all that well. We only got two correct: NU lost a game it was expected to win and the Cats cracked the top-5 in Big Ten pass offense. So naturally we are back at it this year. We aren’t putting a number on them this time around, but there will be more prophecies to come.

Here is my 2014 Bold Prediction, brought to you by DORITOS® For the Bold (just kidding, don't yell at us, Doritos):

Northwestern will crack the selection committee’s top 25 by the end of the season

Say goodbye to the old BCS ranking system. The controversial combination of computers and coaches is history. This season college football introduces its new playoff system. And that means a new ranking system.

This season a selection committee will make the official rankings each week. The committee consists of 13 members and is comprised of sitting athletic directors, journalists, former players, former coaches and administrators. Win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and results against common opponents will factor into the weekly rankings. The committee will release its first rankings on Tuesday, Oct. 28.

The new ranking system is less predictable than the old formula because it’s brand new. But it’s reasonable to assume that the new rankings won’t be completely different than what we’re used to. If both systems were to be used this season, I think they would produce similar rankings.

Since there’s no benchmark for the new ranking system, I studied the BCS rankings over the last decade. For Big Ten teams, the formula for cracking the top 25 seems simple: win at least nine games in the regular season. Over the last 10 seasons, every single Big Ten team with at least nine regular season wins made the top 25 in the final BCS rankings.

(Very rarely have Big Ten squads with fewer than nine wins appeared in the top 25. Michigan (8-3) did it in 2012. And Northwestern (7-4) even did it in 2005.)

The obvious question is: Will Northwestern win at least nine games next season?

I believe the Cats will win exactly nine games and squeak into the top 25 at the end of the season. The Cats are favored to beat Cal, Northern Illinois, Western Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois. That’s six wins right there. They would only need to win half of the remaining six games—three of which are at home—to get to nine wins. This is very possible.

I say the Cats beat Penn State on the road and win two of those three home games (Nebraska and Michigan). There are your nine wins. That would leave losses to Wisconsin, Iowa and Notre Dame. All three of those teams could be in the top 25 come Oct. 28 so the losses wouldn’t look bad to the committee.

What’s more, two of those three losses would come after Oct. 28. Thus, if the Cats win the games I predict they will, they’ll be 6-1 and fresh off a huge win over Nebraska when the first rankings come out. The Cats would likely be on the top 25 bubble by then.

Northwestern does not have the strongest schedule, but six out of eight conference wins over quality opponents like Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska would satisfy the committee on that front. The more I study the schedule, the more optimistic I become about NU’s chances next season. The Cats will have to earn every win next year, but they are capable of a 9-3 season. If they don’t crack the top 25 Oct. 28, they will by the time the final rankings are issued Dec. 7.