The ‘Cats are back in the national spotlight.
In ESPN’s most recent Football Power Index rankings released Tuesday morning, Northwestern football ranked 25th in the nation despite its dismal 3-9 finish in 2019. The ‘Cats jumped 13 spots from 38th in the rankings released in February.
ESPN defines the index is a “measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance going forward for the rest of the season,” factoring in strength of schedule and one’s expected point margin against an average opponent in a neutral environment.
While this ranking may come as a surprise to many, on a closer look, it makes sense.
Pandemic permitting, the ‘Cats are given more than a 50 percent chance of winning eight of their twelve games, according to the FPI. The four games where NU enters as the underdog are at Penn State (13.6 percent), at Iowa (39.5 percent), against Wisconsin at Wrigley (17.8 percent) and at Minnesota (42.8 percent).
This is a significant statistic for the Wildcats who were only favored to win four of their contests last season — one of which they lost against Purdue.
Northwestern has a manageable non-conference schedule as well as home games against beatable conference opponents like Nebraska, Maryland and Illinois. Pat Fitzgerald has a new offensive coordinator and talented quarterback at his disposal with standouts on both sides of the ball. Ultimately, the ‘Cats have the potential to climb back into the AP Poll rankings this season if they capitalize on these opportunities.
Also in the rankings, vanquished 2018 Holiday Bowl opponent Utah, conference rivals Indiana and Iowa, TCU and Louisville round out 20 through 24. This group replaced programs like Nebraska, Minnesota, Florida State and Tennessee who anchored the bottom five spots in the previous predictions. While 247sports addresses the other teams in this group, the article makes no comment on why the ‘Cats made the rankings.
The Big Ten cleaned up and even out-numbered the SEC in these rankings with seven teams earning spots. In addition to the three aforementioned, Ohio State (No. 2), Wisconsin (No. 4), Penn State (No. 7) and Michigan (No. 19) were all placed in the top 25 as well.
Whether or not this lofty rankings indicates future success for Northwestern, the signs for a promising season certainly exist.