The transitive property is one of the worst methods that any sports fan can use to attempt to win an argument. Simply saying that Team A is a better team than Team C because Team A beat Team B and Team B beat Team C is ridiculous. As the chain of teams lengthens, the argument becomes even more absurd.
But so, in many ways, is this football team.
Let’s take a second to imagine what a world in which Northwestern football being undefeated would look like. A half-empty Ryan Field would be filled to the brim on gamedays. Pat Fitzgerald would be cracking his jokes to a packed house during weekly press conferences. Hunter Johnson would be a Heisman finalist. Mick McCall would be having enough success to maybe actually leave for a head coaching job elsewhere. It would all be so glorious.
I’m warning you now, this is going to be utterly ridiculous. But please, suspend your disbelief and have fun. Here’s exactly why this world should exist, starting from the top:
We all know how this one turned out. The ‘Cats played an ugly game full of missed tackles and poor offense (shocker) and lost 17-7. Let’s flip it on its head, though. Here’s why, 10 weeks into the season, this should be counted as a win for the Wildcats.
We start with NU’s only victory of the year, a 30-14 win over UNLV. UNLV then went onto beat Vanderbilt 34-10, while the Commodores went onto win 21-14 vs. Missouri. Missouri thrashed South Carolina 34-14, while the Gamecocks shocked Georgia 20-17 (this also makes Northwestern better than the Dawgs).
Let’s keep it going. Georgia beat Notre Dame 23-17 (better than them too), while the Irish survived against USC by winning 30-27. Finally, the Trojans rolled through Stanford 45-20. We can officially count the week one loss as a win for the ‘Cats, taking us to 1-0 in these reinvented standings.
No explanation needed here. The ‘Cats picked up their first, and only, real win of the season vs. UNLV in their 30-14 victory (this makes NU 2-0 in the standings that really matter).
vs. Michigan State
Back in September, when Northwestern still had hope, this game meant something. The Spartans dominated, though, blowing the Wildcats out 31-10. It must’ve been a fluke, though, because Northwestern is clearly the better team. Here’s why:
We, again, start with the ‘Cats’ win against UNLV (that’ll be a common theme out of necessity). UNLV, again, went on to beat Vanderbilt. This time, Vanderbilt went on to beat Northern Illinois, 24-18. The Huskies squeaked by Ohio, 39-36, while the Bobcats narrowly beat Buffalo, 21-20. Buffalo smashed Eastern Michigan 43-14, and the Eagles shocked Illinois 34-31 (more on that later). Finally, just this past weekend, Illinois stormed back from being down 28-3 to shock Michigan State in East Lansing.
It’s safe to say we can move the Sparty game to the W column, putting the ‘Cats at the top of the Big Ten West standings at 3-0.
This game actually follows the exact same path as Michigan State because Illinois was able to beat both the Spartans AND the Badgers. I was in Madison for this one and may have witnessed a loss with my own eyes, but using my new, much more sound argument, the ‘Cats are now 4-0.
Once again, this game follows the same exact path as the Michigan State and Wisconsin games aside from one minor add-on. Instead of ending with Illinois, we need to go one step further to Purdue, who were beaten by the Illini but shocked the Cornhuskers behind Aidan O’Connell’s heroics. In the real standings, this game should have been a win. Then again, we don’t care about those, so the ‘Cats are now 5-0.
vs. Ohio State
Okay, I did my absolute best with this one. I really, really tried.
I’m going to be honest, I think I succeeded? It was a somewhat difficult argument to make considering Ohio State is currently 9-0 and sits firmly in the playoff race, but here we go. It actually ended up being quite simple in the end.
By following the same path as the last few games, we reach the Illinois over Wisconsin upset, which is key in a lot of these arguments. After that, we take a look at both Wisconsin and Ohio State’s schedules to search for common opponents. We find one in Michigan State. The Badgers skunked the Spartans 38-0 while the Buckeyes only beat them 34-10.
Therefore, through margin of victory vs. a common opponent, Wisconsin is better than Ohio State (ignore the game they played where Ohio State won, that doesn’t matter). We already know Northwestern is better than Wisconsin in this reinvented picture, which means the ‘Cats top the Buckeyes.
Boom. In this world, the ‘Cats are 6-0 and students just tore down the goalposts and brought them back to Lake Michigan after shocking the Buckeyes on a Friday night. On to Iowa.
The Hawkeyes lost to Wisconsin, who lost to Illinois, who lost to Eastern Michigan, and so on. Up to 7-0!
Okay, I know these are getting repetitive, but stay with me, it’ll get fun soon. Indiana has a loss to Michigan State, and the Spartans, as we discussed earlier, are clearly worse than the ‘Cats. No need to draw it out, the Wildcats are 8-0, and EVERYONE is talking about it.
Illinois, once again, is key in this explanation. Because the Illini have had such a wild season with a loss to Eastern Michigan and wins against Wisconsin and Michigan State, they make an amazing chain link in this absurd scenario. Illinois beat Purdue earlier in the year, which makes Northwestern better than the Boilermakers based off of previous explanations. Wowza. 9-0.
Before moving onto games yet to be played, here’s a quick summary of all the games so far:
@ Stanford, W because: NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > Mizzou, Mizzou > South Carolina, South Carolina > Georgia, Georgia > ND, ND > USC, USC > Stanford equates to NU > Stanford.
vs. UNLV, W because: They actually won!
vs. Michigan State, W because: NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > Northern Illinois, Northern Illinois > Ohio, Ohio > Buffalo, Buffalo > Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan > Illinois, Illinois > MSU means NU > MSU.
@ Wisconsin, W because: NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > Northern Illinois, Northern Illinois > Ohio, Ohio > Buffalo, Buffalo > Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan > Illinois, Illinois > Wisconsin means NU > Wisconsin.
@ Nebraska, W because: NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > N. Illinois, NIU > Ohio, Ohio > Buffalo, Buffalo > Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan > Illinois, Illinois > Purdue, Purdue > Nebraska shortens to NU > Nebraska.
vs. Ohio State, W because: NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > Northern Illinois, NIU > Ohio, Ohio > Buffalo, Buffalo > Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan > Illinois, Illinois > Wisconsin, Wisconsin > OSU due to margin of victory vs. a common opponent (Michigan State). Ultimately, NU > OSU.
vs. Iowa, W because: NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > Northern Illinois, Northern Illinois > Ohio, Ohio > Buffalo, Buffalo > Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan > Illinois, Illinois > Wisconsin, Wisconsin > Iowa means NU > Iowa.
@ Indiana, W because: NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > Northern Illinois, Northern Illinois > Ohio, Ohio > Buffalo, Buffalo > Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michgan > Illinois, Illinois > MSU, MSU > Indiana equates to NU > Indiana.
vs. Purdue, W because: NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > Northern Illinois, Northern Illinois > Ohio, Ohio > Buffalo, Buffalo > Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan > Illinois, Illinois > Purdue means NU > Purdue.
Okay, got it? Let’s move on to the remaining schedule.
We need to dip into the FCS to explain why the ‘Cats should beat UMass on Saturday. Once again, NU beat UNLV, UNLV beat Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt beat Northern Illinois. After that, Northern Illinois beat Illinois State, 24-10, while the Redbirds beat Southern Illinois, 24-7. Finally, Southern Illinois beat UMass 45-20. Easy enough. 10-0.
If you want it in chain form, here you go: NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > Northern Illinois, Northern Illinois > Illinois State, Illinois State > Southern Illinois, Southern Illinois > UMass.
The Golden Gophers are still undefeated after shocking Penn State, so we need to stretch for this one. Surprisingly, the chain isn’t that long.
It follows the same path as the UMass explanation, up to Illinois State. There, we find that ISU and Minnesota had a common opponent in South Dakota State. Shockingly, the Redbirds beat SDSU 27-18 while the Golden Gophers only beat them 28-21, providing ISU with a better margin of victory vs. a common opponent and, therefore, a clear reason for superiority. The ‘Cats should be 11-0 after Week 13.
Here’s a chain for simplification: NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > Northern Illinois, Northern Illinois > Illinois State, Illinois State > Minnesota due to larger margin of victory vs. a common opponent.
The Illini will meet their match against the ‘Cats thanks to that EMU loss. It’s been discussed time and time again in this land of make believe, so here’s the chain again because I’m too lazy to type out scores.
NU > UNLV, UNLV > Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt > Northern Illinois, Northern Illinois > Ohio, Ohio > Buffalo, Buffalo > Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan > Illinois.
12-0! Onto the playoff they go!
I’m going to ignore the Big Ten Championship because Northwestern would face a team with a very similar chain to those they faced earlier this year. So let’s move to the playoff. Assuming the ‘Cats would be a #2 or #3 seed, they’d most likely face a team like Clemson in the semifinals. Here’s why the Wildcats would topple the Tigers and move on to the championship game.
Semifinals vs. Clemson
This is another fun one. Clemson is currently undefeated, so we need to use margin of victory. Cutting to the chase, NU beat UNLV, UNLV beat Vandy, Vandy beat Mizzou, Mizzou then breaks off a new chain because they beat Troy 42-10. Troy beat Georgia Southern by three touchdowns and Georgia Southern shimmied by Appalachian State 24-21.
Now it’s time for margin of victory. Appalachian State and Clemson share a common opponent in North Carolina, and Appalachian State beat UNC 34-31 while Clemson beat UNC 21-20. Therefore, by margin of victory, Appalachian State is better than Clemson, which means the ‘Cats are better than Clemson. Easy. To the championship!
Championship vs. LSU
What better way to cap this season off than with a national championship win over the current #1 team in the land. Once again, since LSU is undefeated, we need to use margin of victory. Here goes nothing.
To pull off this victory, we actually need to go back to the chain that started the season at Stanford. To simplify, it goes something like this: NU > UNLV > Vanderbilt > Mizzou > South Carolina > Georgia.
Now that we’re at Georgia, we find that Georgia has beaten Florida. After that, we see that Florida and LSU had a common opponent in our old friend Vanderbilt. Florida shut out Vanderbilt 56-0, while LSU only won 66-38. Thus, by margin of victory vs. a common opponent, Florida is better than LSU.
This makes the Northwestern Wildcats national champions. Imagine that. Time to claim the title like UCF did in 2016.
Look, I’m well aware this was a convoluted attempt to pull any sort of meaning out of this season, but we like to have fun here at Inside NU.
Is it possible to use the transitive property against the ‘Cats in any of these games? Absolutely. Hell, you wouldn’t even need to use it considering they have lost eight of their nine games, but I find it best to try to find a funnier/bright side of a season like this.
P.S. Please tweet the CFP Committee telling them to #PutNUin and send them this article link. Thanks!