Pat Fitzgerald doesn’t go crazy over the College Football Playoff rankings, but he does catch the weekly Tuesday night show when he can.
“Before I’m a coach, I’m a fan, so you might watch a little bit of it,” the Northwestern head football coach said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “But the only one that matters is the one at the end of the year. We probably played ourselves out of a position to be in the Big Ten Championship. I think we’re out of it numerically. So we always focus on what we can control. What I like about the College Football Playoff is if you win your games and you play a competitive schedule, you have no reason to have a complaint. Now, if you don’t win and you don’t play a competitive schedule, well, you’re going to get what you deserve – and that’s why we’re at where we’re at right now. We’ve played, I think, as competitive a schedule as anybody in our conference. We did not play very well against two very good football teams in Iowa and Michigan and we sit where we’re at because that’s what we’ve earned. Now we’re playing another top-25 team on the road. If we want to be respected, we got to find a way to have one more point than the Badgers. That’s where our game is at right now – instead of computers and stats and all that stuff. You got to win football games.”
Northwestern (8-2) is ranked 20th in this week’s poll. Oddly enough, a team that the Wildcats beat, Stanford, is ranked No. 11 – despite having an identical 8-2 record.
Apparently the committee took into account the early start time of that season-opening game Sept. 5. Nevermind the fact that the Wildcats had to get up early that day, too – and they still held Stanford without a touchdown in a 16-6 win.
Fitzgerald was asked for his opinion on start times factoring into the committee’s decision-making.
“I just chuckle,” Fitzgerald said, chuckling. “Pop on the tape. That’s all I’ll say.”
Northwestern started the season 5-0 before losing at Michigan, which is ranked 12th in this week’s poll, and against Iowa, which is ranked fifth. The Wildcats have since won three straight over Nebraska, Penn State and Purdue by a combined 11 points.
Their scoring offense, however, ranks last in the Big Ten. What’s been the challenge on that side of the ball?
“Well, just consistency,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re starting a young man (Clayton Thorson) who’s a redshirt freshman at quarterback. He’s made some huge plays for us – difference-making plays for us – not only throwing it, but also running it. But you look at the defenses that we’ve played. I think six of our ten games are (against) top-30 defenses in the country. I’m not trying to make excuses. We’ve played very good football teams and we got a young quarterback who’s won eight games, so we’re not going to apologize for that. I don’t really care about a beauty contest. I’m really glad my high school sweetheart decided to marry me because I’m the ugliest dude in America. So it’s not about beauty. It’s about getting the job done.
“So around here, we’re just trying to find a way to get better, trying to find a way to win,” Fitzgerald continued. “At the end of the day, that’s all that you can control. What would be good is if you put those 8-2 records together and do a little blind thing with the team that we beat earlier in the year and who they’ve beaten . . . and you’ll see just why it doesn’t matter right now and why it’ll matter at the end of the year. We’ve got two more big games and the only one that matters is this one this weekend.”
Saturday’s kickoff from Madison is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET.