Big Ten West Notebook: Wildcats continue big rise

Can the Wildcats keep up their winning ways against Harbaugh and company?
Jerry Lai/Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern moves to 5-0, date with Harbaugh looming

The Northwestern Wildcats are perhaps the biggest surprise in all of college football this season. They have raced off to a 5-0 start, skyrocketing up to #13 in the AP poll. 

Just like we all predicted right?

The Wildcats have racked up quality wins this season behind a great defense and a power running game led by star running back Justin Jackson. The sophomore running back has gone over 100 yards in ten of his last twelve games yet continues to be under the radar nationally. 

There is a big challenge ahead of them as they head to Ann Arbor this weekend to face off against a revived Wolverines squad led by Jim Harbaugh. Pat Fitzgerald had this to say about how the Wolverines are playing this season under their first year coach:

"Coach Harbaugh and his staff have done a terrific job obviously being there for their first year. They’ve got a great plan in all three phases. Very talented group. What jumps out to me, first off defensively, is their front."

Going on the road in the Big Ten is never easy but that is the task in front of freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson. Fitzgerald knows he will have to get his young quarterback ready quickly:

"I’ll tell Clayton to take care of the football and do his job and we’ll prepare like we do for every road game. We have a road game plan that we enact and we’ll go through that typical protocol this week."

If you like hard hitting, low scoring football this game will be for you. Should Northwestern make it through this tough test, the possibility of them running the table becomes very real.

Wisconsin/Nebraska rivalry loses shine but gains twist

Coming into the 2015 season, the week six matchup would have been a juicy one for the Big Ten West. 

Both teams are banged up coming into the matchup. Wisconsin is down their number one wide receiver, tight end, and running back for the game after already going through a slew of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Nebraska will be missing several defensive starters which is not ideal considering they gave up 581 rushing yards to the Badgers last season. 

There is a new twist on this rivalry though: Paul Chryst and Mike Riley are great friends so it will be interesting to see them go into battle against each other on Saturday in Lincoln.

Paul Chryst doesn’t feel like it will be him against his friend Riley:

"I think for me personally with Mike — and I think that, probably, I don’t know if I learned it or it was reinforced to me by being with Mike — the game is not about us. It would be hard to coach against players you’ve coached. I thought what Daronte’ (Jones) went through the other week would be harder because I’m proud to be a coach, and I learned a ton from Mike, but I think one of the things that we both have in common is the game is — we respect the game and truly respect those that play it, and our job is to help them play it."

"So I don’t feel like it’s me against Mike. It’s not — I don’t think it will be."

Hawkeyes continue to surprise with upset win

Don’t look know now but the Iowa Hawkeyes are ranked for the first time since November of 2010.

It seems surreal for a program as consistent as Iowa to go five years without being ranked but these first five games could be a turning point for the program. Following the upset win over Wisconsin in Madison, Kirk Ferentz credited his seniors with the turnaround:

“Part of the reason we won (at Wisconsin), and part of the reason we’re playing well, are our older guys,” Ferentz said. “Guys like Nate Meier are doing a great job. I’d say that about our whole senior class, the guys out there playing. They’re playing their best football. Nate is a tough guy to block. He wasn’t the biggest guy on the field. But he just had a heart that’s really big.”

The Hawkeyes next test is the Illinois Fighting Illini who will make the trip to Iowa City. Iowa’s secondary will be tested again as the Illini bring a potent passing attack led by Wes Lunt. The Illini are riding high after a program defining victory over the Huskers in Champaign last week.

Don’t count out the Hawkeyes when talking about the cloudy Big Ten West race.