Op-Ed: Why I Picked Northwestern #1

Jonathan Daniel

Simply put, they're an intriguing team.

Yesterday, we released a pre-season power ranking of the Big Ten. Some of you took exception to my voting Northwestern ahead of Ohio State (as well as MSU, UM and NU). I even had the pleasure of being called an imbecile which I think really just means I've arrived as a sportswriter.

How about I take a moment to elaborate and maybe you'll see where I'm coming from. If not, well, you can tell your friends that I'm an idiot. That's okay with me.

That's fine but I don't want to click the link. Show me your ballot so I can call you an imbecile too.

Okay. Remember, it goes from least to greatest. Or something like that.

  1. Illinois
  2. Purdue
  3. Indiana
  4. Iowa
  5. Minnesota
  6. Penn State
  7. Wisconsin
  8. Michigan
  9. Nebraska
  10. Michigan State
  11. Ohio State
  12. Northwestern (!)

NORTHWESTERN IS FIRST? YOU'RE AN IDIOT.

Alright, let's address the obvious question first - why would I vote for Northwestern ahead of OBVIOUS JUGGERNAUT AUGUST NATIONAL CHAMPS Ohio State? To put it quite simply, I'm more excited about Northwestern right now than I am about Ohio State or any other Big Ten team, including Nebraska.

Is that to say I'm not excited about anyone else? Hell no. It's college football. I'm excited about everyone playing football again. Even Colorado.

And I do think Ohio State is going to be good. And they're certainly a popular pick to win the Big Ten.

But they're boring. Everyone and their mother (and probably even your Aunt Jennie, who doesn't even watch football) is picking Ohio State to win the Big Ten. Based off what, I ask you?

Not a single team has a played a single down yet. I personally don't subscribe to the notion of awarding August National Titles or September Heismans or any of that non-sense before the teams have even played a single game. It's stupid. Half of the teams in the Big Ten don't even know who their starting QB is yet and you're telling me I have to instantly award Ohio State the Big Ten title?

No thanks. Their bowl season was non-existent. Meanwhile, Northwestern beat TWO SEC teams last year.

But it's just Vandy and Mississippi State!

SO WHAT? What's that thing Nebraska fans always say they expect out of Nebraska? Beat the teams you're supposed to be beat and be competitive in the games you're not.

Well, Northwestern epitomized that last season. Nebraska did not. So maybe we shouldn't be discounting Northwestern as much as we do?

But let's be clear - I could easily have selected Indiana or Illinois if my point was to just pick any team because it's August. Hell, I could've put Minnesota up there and probably gotten responses like Andy Staples.

No, I had a reason for choosing Northwestern. It wasn't just because I think Pat Fitzgerald is a fantastic coach. (I do.)

I've noticed that there seems to be an opinion among fans (Nebraska fans in particular) that they're "over-rated". I mean, Northwestern? Over-rated? Usually we reserve that title for teams like Florida State or Notre Dame or Southern Cal. But now we're applying it to Northwestern?

You don't see the absurdity in that?

But it's just Northwestern.

And they're 1-1 against us since we joined the conference. And they would be 2-0 if their kicker doesn't go wide. Or if they don't randomly decide to start throwing the ball in the fourth quarter.

Here's my point - I chose Northwestern because I knew there'd be a response. That some of you would call me an idiot or worse, maybe think that I'm out of mind. But I can assure you, my sanity isn't a problem here.

First, I know that some of us take polls WAY too seriously. I know that any slight against Nebraska is immediately means to go full nuclear on the author of said opinion. If Nebraska or some other team isn't where you expected them, well, goshdarnit, that author doesn't know a damn thing.*

*I should be clear and state that I recognize this is the case for fans everywhere. This response is the reason the BCS was flawed to start with and why pre-season polls are terrible, terrible things.

I also think that many Nebraska fans are not taking their new conference serious. We think Ohio State is the only competitor we have, that everyone else is beneath us. That we're unrivaled, to steal a term from adidas. (Well except for Oklahoma, who fans still love despite the fact that they chose Texas over us. Makes total sense.)

That's a great attitude to have if you're trying to be the best in the conference. But even great teams respect their opponents and recognize their strengths - they don't merely dismiss a team out of hand. (Alabama lost to Texas A&M because Nick Saban and his staff didn't respect the Aggies.)

Anyone in the Big Ten can beat us. That's not a knock against Pelini or an invitation to bemoan a loss of tradition or any of that. No, it's just a fact. For Pete's sake, Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue all have winning records against Nebraska. And no, I don't care if you think Osborne's teams didn't have to worry about "lower" teams.

Anyone can win the Big Ten if the ball bounces right. Even Indiana.


The GLORIOUS Buckeyes of Ohio State? Their last two trips to Ross Ade Stadium haven't ended in victory. And that was under the mustachio'd Hope whose teams couldn't keep an ACL healthy if they wrapped it in bubble wrap, put it under lock and key and didn't even touch it.

The Big 8 and partial qualifier era is long gone. Teams like Northwestern are pulling in top flight talent and coaching them up. Anyone can win the Big Ten if the ball bounces right. Even Indiana. (Okay, that might be pushing it.)

All this being said, it was a power poll. My vote did little to change the overall vote other than to push Northwestern ahead of Wisconsin. And frankly, I think that's fair enough of a compromise. If Wisconsin beats Northwestern, then sure, Wisconsin belongs ahead.

But really, who wants to give credit to skunk-colored weasels anyways?

I chose Northwestern because today, right now, I'm excited about them. They're a "hot" team in the Big Ten, like it or not. Rather than stand in line and give more glory to the Buckeyes, I thought I'd acknowledge our friends in Evanston.

Bottom line, you can expect me to vote differently than my colleagues and that's okay. I will share my ballot every week and will happily take the criticisms. But I won't apologize for my votes or even change them. After all, I'm not a SEC coach.

Who knows - maybe I'll vote Illinois first next time. If they're the only Big Ten team that wins this week, you kind of have to, don't you?

If that makes me an imbecile, so be it.

Imbecile!

At least no one got upset about Sparty being ahead of Nebraska and Michigan.

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