🎱Northwestern's No. 8
📵The College Football Playoff is a reality.
What’s up, everyone?
📵Blame the Phones is coming at you early this week for a couple of reasons: Thanksgiving and the first College Football Playoff rankings, which were released Tuesday night.
I don’t think much of a preamble is needed this week, so let’s just get after it.
📵Blame the committee
Zoom meetings be damned. The members of the College Football Playoff selection committee gathered in Grapevine, Texas — in person — to do the most important work facing America today: ranking Northwestern No. 8 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2020 season. (You can find the full rankings are here, but, honestly, what else really matters … Northwestern is No. 8!)
The big takeaway from the rankings can be summed up by ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit who said, Northwestern can take care of business and head to Indianapolis while “controlling their own destiny” to get to the Playoff. That means there’s no sweating out other conference championship games, no rooting for Florida or Texas A&M to upset Alabama, no hoping BYU or Cincinnati gets knocked off. With Northwestern’s placement at No. 8, it appears to be a true win-and-you’re-in situation.
Pat Fitzgerald’s reaction was, reportedly, extremely on brand:
As was Riley Lees’:
Win-and-you’re-in, though, isn’t guaranteed. Any slip up means the hopes of a bid is all but over — and that could even be with an upset of No. 4 Ohio State in Indy.
This weekend, Northwestern takes on Michigan State, a team with a new head coach coming off back-to-back losses (combined 73-7) and a COVID-19-induced off week.
Then, it’s Minnesota. But that game could be in jeopardy. This weekend’s Minnesota-Wisconsin game has been canceled after the Gophers had positive coronavirus cases. At this point, that means Wisconsin will not reach the six regular season games needed to make the Big Ten title game, pushing Northwestern even closer to clinching its second Big Ten West championship in three years.
After that, it’s a home game against Illinois. That’s it. Three (scheduled) games and three wins means that a fourth would truly take the program to a place it hasn’t ever been.
Quick prediction for the Michigan State game: Northwestern 31, MSU 6.
Explosiveness: Northwestern .99, Wisconsin 1.28
Efficiency (Success Rate): Northwestern 26%, Wisconsin 35%
Field Position (Average Expected Points): Northwestern 1.67, Wisconsin 1.34
Finishing Drives (Points Per Scoring Opportunity): Northwestern 2.83, Wisconsin 0
Turnovers: Northwestern 1, Wisconsin 5.
Wisconsin’s offense was more explosive than Northwestern’s (but still not very explosive) and Wisconsin’s offense was more efficient than Northwestern’s (but still not very efficient).
That was the key. Northwestern’s defense suffocated Wisconsin’s offense to the point that the marginal factors (field position, scoring opportunities, and turnovers) made the game feel like a Northwestern blowout, at least from my vantage point.
Paddy Fisher was back to playing the way he did when he broke onto the scene in 2018. Blake Gallagher is arguably better than Fisher. You can’t take Chris Bergin off the field. Those three linebackers stifled Wisconsin’s run game, freed up to make plays by senior defensive tackle Jake Saunders and others. On the back end, Greg Newsome II and JR Pace are playing outstanding while Brandon Joseph has been a revelation at safety.
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Some context, for those who need it:
From Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune: Northwestern football needs 'our damn respect' after win
From Matt Wenzel of the MLive: Unbeaten Northwestern heads to Michigan State with chip on shoulder and odd nickname
From William Karmin of Inside NU: Five takeaways from Northwestern’s monumental victory over Wisconsin
From Peter Warren of the Daily Northwestern: It’s time to treat Northwestern with the respect its earned as one of the Big Ten’s best
From the Associated Press: Wisconsin Badgers unhappy with pass interference calls vs. Northwestern
That’s where we’ll end things this week. Thanks for sticking with another edition of 📵Blame the Phones.
Hopefully, I’ll be back in your inbox next week.
Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas. I’d love to hear them.