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posted: 9/24/2012 9:45 PM

Northwestern a confident bunch after 4-0 start

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  • Northwestern defensive line Brian Arnfelt (91) celebrates with defensive line Sean McEvilly (67) after recovering a fumble during the first half of an NCAA college football game against South Dakota in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. Northwestern won 38-7.

      Northwestern defensive line Brian Arnfelt (91) celebrates with defensive line Sean McEvilly (67) after recovering a fumble during the first half of an NCAA college football game against South Dakota in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. Northwestern won 38-7.
    Associated Press

 
 

Northwestern's proposed football practice facility will have windows looking out toward Lake Michigan.

For now, though, the Wildcats are keeping the blinds closed, so to speak. Anything happening outside of Evanston is being treated as none of their business.

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Northwestern finished the nonconference schedule 4-0, while the Big Ten as a whole stumbled badly.

As conference play begins this week, no school stands out as the team to beat. The highest-ranked Big Ten squad, Ohio State at No. 14, is ineligible for the league's title game. The only other unbeaten teams are NU and Minnesota.

At this point, the Wildcats have reason to believe they have as good a chance as anyone heading into the conference opener against Indiana on Saturday (11 a.m., BTN). The Hoosiers suffered one of the league's 3 losses to Mid-American Conference teams, dropping a 41-39 decision to Ball State on Sept. 15.

"I think (the NU players) should be pleased with the fact they found a way to win four games," coach Pat Fitzgerald said at his weekly news conference. "I think through that, we should be a very confident football team."

True, being undefeated is a unique achievement in the Big Ten this fall, and the Wildcats beat three teams from major conferences. But their schedule is still suspect. Vanderbilt, one NU opponent, lost at Georgia 48-3 on Saturday.

"Going 4-0 outside of conference is definitely an accomplishment in itself," linebacker Damien Proby said. "To keep from becoming bigheaded, we've got to focus on us being 0-0 and starting over. We still have things to prove to other Big Ten members, who we actually are and what we can do."

Northwestern has moved the ball reasonably well on offense, while rotating quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. The Cats rank third in the Big Ten with 221 rushing yards per game, led by 5-foot-8 junior Venric Mark at 99.8 yards per contest.

The defense seems better than last season, but thanks to a rough second-half performance against Syracuse in the opener, they rank 11h in the conference in total defense.

After Indiana, the Wildcats visit Penn State and Minnesota. If all goes well there, the Oct. 20 matchup against Nebraska at Ryan Field should be meaningful.

"We're really only focused on ourselves and currently we're focused on Indiana and going 1-0 this week," said backup running back Mike Trumpy. "Coach Fitz stresses that every single week -- going 1-0, focusing on us and not looking ahead."

Ward a dual threat:

Northwestern chose senior offensive tackle Patrick Ward as its offensive MVP of the South Dakota game.

According to coach Pat Fitzgerald, Ward's lowest grade in college is an A- and he's gotten just one of those. The 6-foot-7, 310-pound graduate of Providence High School is a third-year starter and mechanical engineering major.

"I'm not so sure there's anyone smarter than Patrick Ward in college football today," Fitzgerald said. "Probably some bright guys. I'll put Patrick's grades up against anybody and the way he's playing right now it pretty special."

Sad loss of ex-Cat:

The Wildcats are mourning the loss of Leon Brockmeier, a starting offensive lineman on the 2000 team that shared the Big Ten title. Brockmeier passed away on Saturday at age 34. The Tallahassee, Fla. native is survived by a wife and two young sons.

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