Northwestern is trying to be sexy.
We’re not exactly talking about the literal definition of the term, here, but it certainly is something the Wildcats are aspiring toward.
You see, there’s no better time to discuss the positives of the new College Football Playoff system than today, hours after the preseason coaches poll was released. That poll, and it’s AP brother, are effectively useless nowadays following the implementation of the new system, which will see a committee select a quartet of teams to play for the national title at the end of the season.
The big key here? The committee will unveil its own set of rankings midseason. It corrects the fatal flaw of the coaches and AP polls — setting up a rankings baseline based on practically nothing but the previous season's performance — instead opting to evaluate which team is the nation’s best based on what they’ve done. What a novel concept.
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It’s a new system that has plenty of big fans, including Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who sees it as potentially extremely advantageous to his team.
“This is going to be very different,” he said Monday at Big Ten Media Day. “Looking at the preseason, from what I understand, the poll for the top four teams will have nothing to do with preseason. It will have to deal with when the poll is set there Week 6 or 7 or whenever it is. That is a large change to the past. I don’t know if that’s being talked about enough.
“Because a team like Northwestern might not be sexy in the offseason, but you go out and play a pretty competitive non-conference schedule and get two or three Big Ten wins under your belt — you go back to when I played, you’re 5-1, 6-1 as a Big Ten team winning the games we won back then, you’re probably a top-10 team in the first ranking. As a team like us that still has to overcome a bit of a stigma for a couple, 20 years, I like it, I like the change. I think it gives everybody a chance.”
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Fitzgerald is 100-percent right here. If a team was highly ranked in the preseason, nothing but losing was going to knock it off that pedestal, whether placement there was truly deserved or not. This way — and granted it’s something the BCS attempted to do correctly — only performance from the beginning of the season onward is being evaluated. The BCS failed in this regard because it still put weight into the traditional polls, which used preseason rankings as a jumping-off point. Here, there is no jumping-off point. Teams have to win and win over top competition to prove their worth to the committee.
This is another reason Northwestern could benefit. The Cats play a pretty tough non-conference schedule, featuring the likes of the Pac-12’s Cal and mid-major powerhouse Northern Illinois early on. Of course, the biggest of those non-conference games, against Notre Dame, doesn’t come until November. But with Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska all on the schedule before the end of October, strength of schedule figures to benefit the Cats rather than hurt them. That is if they win a good deal of those games.
“We’re trying to have a strength of schedule where if we handle our business, we give ourselves a chance to be sexy enough,” Fitzgerald said. “You’ve got to be in that first poll to be in the conversation. That’s going to be important, and I look forward to seeing how things unfold.”