Will Northwestern Beat a Ranked Team in 2013?
There are a number of ways to get people to pick your team to win games in the coming year. Playing most of your games at home, bringing back a lot of starters (particularly from a good team), and coming off of a bowl game victory over a team from a hyped up conference are all ways to get people expecting big things for your squad. Northwestern can check all of those boxes, which is why a lot of people have predicted at least one victory over a currently ranked team for the Wildcats this year.
The Wildcats went 10-3 a year ago with a win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. In hindsight, Northwestern's best victory came over Vanderbilt at home in week two. The Commodores won nine games and were ranked 23rd at season's end. But they didn't beat a team that was ranked when they faced them all year (which would have been hard to do since they didn't face a team that was ranked at the time they played NW last year). Both Michigan and Nebraska beat the Wildcats and were ranked in the final poll of the season as did unranked Penn State.
The Coming Season
The 2013 preseason poll presents four ranked teams for Northwestern to face. That's Ohio State (2), Michigan (17), Nebraska (18), and Wisconsin (23). The Wildcats are ranked 22nd. This set of predictions from Athlon for example features anywhere from zero to three victories over those ranked teams this season including one pick of a home victory over Ohio State (!). Getting the Buckeyes and Michigan at home could give the Wildcats a chance, but those of us that have been to Evanston have seen how little of an advantage their home field provides. Winning in Madison is never easy as the Badgers have lost just two games at home in three years. While Northwestern upset the Huskers in Lincoln two years ago, they won't catch Nebraska looking past them this time. Take away some unforced special teams turnovers by the Big Red and last year's game might not have even been particularly close.
It's understandable why there some hope in Evanston this year. They bring a lot back from a ten-win team. But their roster simply doesn't measure up top to bottom with the ranked teams they'll face this year. Any victory then should be considered a true upset. Upsets surely happen every season. That doesn't make any one particularly probable. The schedule has four losses written all over it. And that would grant them a win at home over Michigan State and on the road at Iowa, neither of which is a surefire victory. Northwestern deserves some respect, but the hype may be just a little too much for a program that's still finding its way.