Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern Wildcats have steep expectations for themselves, and Thursday morning's release of the preseason coaches' poll proved the rest of the country has them, too.
The Wildcats, which return 15 starters to a team that last year won 10 games, will begin the season ranked 22nd in the nation.
That ranking, which was six slots lower than their No. 16 finish after a win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, pits them fourth in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State (No. 2), Michigan (No. 17) and Nebraska (No. 18).
The Wildcats will open their Big Ten season at home against the second-ranked Buckeyes on Oct. 5 in primetime. A week later they will travel to Madison to face the 23rd-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. They'll play at Nebraska on Nov. 2 and, following a bye week, host the Wolverines on Nov. 16. Michigan State, which will travel to Evanston on Nov. 23, received votes that slotted them 28th in the poll. Big Ten newcomer Rutgers received one vote.
Alabama, the Buckeyes, Oregon, Stanford and Georgia made up the top five, with the defending champion Crimson Tide receiving 58 of 62 first-place votes. Ohio State received three, and No. 6 Texas A&M, led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, received one first-place vote.