After a 10-3 year ending with a win in the Gator Bowl, the Northwestern Wildcats finish the season ranked No. 17 in the AP Poll, as well as No. 16 in the Coaches poll.
It's the ninth time in program history Northwestern has been ranked in a year ending poll, but only the third since 1948, and the first since 1996, when the Cats ended the year 15th.
Northwestern was ranked 21st - 20 in the BCS - before the bowl game, but with their solid win and other teams losing, No. 16 it is. The difference between the polls is that Utah State is ranked higher in the AP, which, uh, bummer. It is tough to say whether Utah State is better - they lost their two games by a combined five points, so they have gripes about a year that was oh-so-close too.
But anyway, that's all fun, but let's focus on the big picture: for most of the year, I did those blogpolls where I couldn't decide whether Northwestern should be No. 24 or No. 25 or out of the poll, and when I did put the Cats in, I felt guilty about it.
Now? Northwestern is clearly a top 20 team. By any standards. Anybody making their poll at the end of the 2012 year that didn't put Northwestern above No., oh, let's say 23, was just fooling themselves.
And with a few non-conference wins to start next year? Northwestern will easily be a top 15 squad. We've flitted in and out of the bottom of the poll in the past few years, but it's been a while since Northwestern has had those small numbers next to its name. In fact, this is the first time NU has been ranked higher than 20 since 2001. They'll likely bring that into next year with a team that doesn't graduate many key cogs.