Northwestern is hoping to take that next step.

Since the B1G split into divisions, Pat Fitzgerald has harped on Northwestern elevating its expectations, first by winning a division followed by claiming a conference title. Half of that mission was accomplished last year.

That means that the next step is for the Wildcats to win a B1G title. It won’t be easy, but Fitzgerald isn’t backing down from that goal.

During B1G Media Days, Fitzgerald talked about last year’s success, both on the field and in the classroom. The latter has been a pillar for Northwestern for decades. Winning games and division titles is a more recent occurrence.

“Getting to Indianapolis was the next natural step for our program,” Fitzgerald said. “To win that game is the motivator for all 14 of our teams. But to get to Lucas Oil (Stadium) for the first time was exactly what I’d hoped it would be for our guys. Obviously the goal is to eventually win it.

“We’re winning at the highest level that we’ve ever been. We haven’t sacrificed or changed anything academically.”

Northwestern has always been a tricky place to win at, given the rigorous academic standards. But it’s become second nature under Fitzgerald’s tenure. But the head coach still isn’t satisfied with simply getting to Indianapolis.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Northwestern is picked to finish near the bottom of the B1G West again this fall. While the Wildcats have been one of the more consistent teams in the conference, they’re still not getting much respect from the media.

“We’re not great clickbait, I guess,” Fitzgerald said in a joking manner.

Over the last four years, Northwestern has posted a 36-17 record, highlighted by a pair of 10-win seasons and a division crown. The Wildcats have also appeared in a bowl game and finished with a winning record each of those seasons. They’ve also won three straight postseason games.

Northwestern may not be the favorite in the West, but that doesn’t bother Fitzgerald or the Wildcats. Perhaps this is a team that could come out of nowhere again and make a return trip to Lucas Oil Stadium.