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Northwestern sure ranks with coaches
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/3/2010 8:29 PM

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Maybe this should be viewed as tangible proof of the respect Pat Fitzgerald's peers have for his program.

Or, perhaps, it's coincidence.

But with Northwestern's debut at No. 25 in the USA Today poll Sunday, the Wildcats (5-0) again made a national splash in the coaches balloting without receiving similar credit in the Associated Press poll.

During Fitzgerald's four-plus seasons as Northwestern's head coach, his team has played just one game while in the AP Top 25: The 2008 Alamo Bowl.

When the Wildcats host Purdue on Saturday night (6:30 p.m., BTN), it will be their sixth game as a Top 25 team in the coaches' eyes.

Alas, Northwestern has won just once while accorded such status.

In 2008, the Wildcats lost to Michigan State (as No. 22), Indiana (as No. 24), Ohio State (as No. 25) and Alamo Bowl foe Missouri (as No. 20).

They did, however, defeat Illinois on Nov. 22 as the 24th team in the USA Today poll.

The Wildcats are 30th in this week's Associated Press poll, which has no bearing on the BCS standings.

This season's first BCS rankings will be unveiled on Oct. 17. The initial Harris poll, which constitutes one-third of the BCS weight as does the USA Today poll, comes out Sunday.

Zook discusses penalties: One of the primary reasons Illinois fell short against No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday was its 9 penalties for 74 yards.

When Illini coach Ron Zook rewound the tape Saturday and again Sunday, he blamed his team and himself for several of the calls.

But when it came to the dead-ball unnecessary roughness call on Jack Ramsey that began Ohio State's clinching touchdown march, Zook didn't get it.

According to the Big Ten Network broadcast, whistles blew after the kick return ended. OSU blocker Taurian Washington got up from the turf and re-engaged Ramsey by putting his hands on his shoulder pads and moving him back 1 yard.

Ramsey answered by jamming his left hand into Washington's facemask with an official there to break them up. That drew the flag.

"When the film shuts off, (Ramsey) is walking away from it," Zook said. "I don't know what happened. There's no way, in my opinion, that can't be offsetting if (Ramsey) did anything. The play's over. There was a little mixup.

"One of their players hit one of our players, but Jack wasn't even involved. When (the tape) cuts off, the guy kept running into Jack. Jack's trying to get away."

Three plays later, another crucial penalty harmed the Illini's chances to come back.

On third-and-1 from Illinois' 44, defensive tackle Corey Liuget and others stuffed running back Dan Herron for no gain.

The Buckeyes received a first down, though, when sophomore cornerback Justin Green was flagged for being offside.

The tape shows Green's feet on the Illinois 44, but his hands and helmet almost directly above the 45. Zook couldn't argue that call.

"That's something you have to coach," Zook said. "When you're playing 'bump' man and the receiver's off the line of scrimmage... but once again, Justin hasn't been there that long and it's something that happens.

"Usually, the official will tell him to back up."

NIU rises: With its 50-14 win at Akron on Saturday night, Northern Illinois jumped to first place among MAC teams in scoring.

The Huskies are averaging 27.8 points per game, even though they played three of their first four games against BCS schools.

NIU also leads the MAC in rushing offense (241.6 ypg) and passing efficiency (135.81 rating).

The Huskies open a three-game home stand Saturday against Temple (4-1).

In the preseason, the Owls and the Huskies were picked as heavy favorites to win their respective divisions.