The weekly polls are often an indicator of national respect a program is receiving for its season résumé, as both writers and coaches file their rankings following each Saturday's action.
Northwestern's record remains unblemished, and its body of work reflects three victories over major-conference opponents; a claim no other program in the country can boast. Yet, the Wildcats were snubbed from the polls, sitting as the first team outside of the AP and coaches poll.
One could conceive Northwestern's standing as a lack of respect, but not inside the program.
"It really doesn't bother us," said running back Mike Trumpy. "We really don't pay attention or care about it. We just care about each other. We know how good we are and how good we can be. What other people think doesn't bother us."
The Wildcats enter conference play as one of three Big Ten teams with a perfect record. With the tests only getting tougher, head coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't believe in what the polls provide -- at least not in the month of September.
"I'm not so sure those things should be done until October, when you play three or four conference games," said Fitzgerald. "We've had a good preseason, but we're going to learn a lot about ourselves over the next month. Typically, we've been pretty crappy in the month of October. We've got a lot of work to do."
Fitzgerald understands the polls' significance later in the season, and hopes his Wildcats are in the rankings then.
"It's like a horse race," he said. "It's not about where you start, it matters where you finish. It doesn't really matter where we're ranked now; I care if we're where we deserve to be at the end of the season."
Northwestern opens up its Big Ten slate with a home contest against the Indiana Hoosiers. A win likely moves it into the rankings. The greatest challenge comes toward the end of the conference schedule when the Wildcats battle with Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State in consecutive games.
A definite rise up the rankings is in order if Northwestern can withstand the brutal stretch it faces. That's the time when Fitzgerald hopes his Wildcats are ranked.
"How we're going to get there," he said, "is if we earn it."