When the second set of College Football Playoff rankings were released on Tuesday night there was a slight surprise on the list, especially to those that don’t follow the Big Ten Conference. Coming in at the tail end at No. 25 were the suddenly red hot Northwestern Wildcats (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten). NU wasn’t exactly a playoff favorite heading into the season, even more so after a 2-3 start in which they surrendered 30 or more points in those losses, and we’re outscored 64-31 in conference opening losses against Wisconsin and Penn State.
Since then however the “Cardiac Cats” as they’ve become known have rattled off four consecutive victories, the last three requiring overtime. And with those OT victories over Iowa, the triple-overtime thriller over Michigan State, and last week’s big road victory at Nebraska, the Wildcats became the first Football Bowl Subdivision team in history to win three in-a-row in overtime. Although it would take quite the miracle for the Wildcats to find their way into the four-team parlay come January, the selection committee felt that their accomplishments over these last few weeks had to be recognized.
Northwestern isn’t exactly a college football powerhouse but the way they’ve been able to pull themselves together over the last two seasons has shown that they’re heading in that direction. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has undoubtedly convinced his players to buy into his philosophy and it shows with the effort they give on the field each week win or lose. Leading the way for the Cats’ has been senior running back Justin Jackson. He’s already run for 798 yards and eight touchdowns on the year. 459 of those yards and four of those scores have come during this four-game streak.
He also became the school’s all-time leading rusher this year with 1,036 career carries for 4,927 yards and 38 touchdowns. The NFL is definitely in his future. Redshirt junior quarterback Clayton Thorson has also had a big year. He rebounded from some early season struggles to wind up throwing for 2,287 yards and 10 touchdowns. During NU’s current winning streak Thorson’s passer rating has been over 100 in each game.
Senior safety Kyle Queiro has been the stabilizing force on defense for Fitzgerald’s team over these last few weeks. In this four-game stretch he’s racked up 19 total tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups. With favorable games against Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois (combined record of 3-15) left on the schedule, Northwestern could finish the year with a 9-3 record and could wind up in the CFP top-20 when all is said and done.