There's no disputing how the Northwestern Wildcats have turned their season around. During non-conference play, Randy Walker's team looked headed for disaster. A narrow escape against Northern Illinois was followed by a humiliating rout at Arizona State. Blowing a 16-point lead in the conference opener against Penn State didn't exactly raise anyone's spirits in Evanston.
But time has passed, the Lion loss doesn't look so bad in retrospect, and Northwestern has efficiently rung up three straight wins. They hung 51 points on the board and knocked Wisconsin from the ranks of the undefeated. Then they went to Purdue and won. And last Saturday, they delivered one of the biggest stunners of the year, in pummeling Michigan State 49-14 in East Lansing. The victory was surprising enough, but the margin was shocking.
The Wildcats have proven they are bowl-caliber, needing only win to qualify for postseason play (with the luxury of Illinois still on the schedule). Are they ready for something more? Michigan rolls into Evanston on Saturday night (6 CST) and the ESPN cameras will be rolling. The guess here is that Northwestern's defense is still too shaky, and the Wolverines are still fighting to salvage something of their season. But it would be a risk to airily dismiss the studious Wildcats when it's time for big exams.