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The last time Northwestern won three straight games to open the season — and was ranked in the Top 25 — it answered with seven consecutive losses.

That was 2013, a season that spiraled out of control and was followed by a miserable 2014 that ended with another 5-7 record. There have been more than a few key injuries for the Wildcats the past couple years, along with plenty of attention off the field as the players found themselves at the center of a labor battle.

Heading into this season, not many believed Northwestern would contend in the Big Ten West. And fewer expected to see the Wildcats unbeaten after three weeks.

But that's where they are after a 19-10 victory over Duke.

And sitting at No. 17 in the country, coach Pat Fitzgerald isn't worried about what the prognosticators thought a few weeks ago.

"Everybody (in the locker room) really is not concerned with what other people think of us," Fitzgerald said. "We've been a part of that roller-coaster ride for a couple of years. We tore down that roller coaster. Burned it."

The Wildcats did that by playing outstanding defense. Sophomore linebacker Anthony Walker had 19 tackles against the Blue Devils, and the defense has allowed just one offensive touchdown in three games.

Northwestern also forced three turnovers against Duke, the last one a fumble recovery on a punt in the fourth quarter.

But the Wildcats will need more offense as quarterback Clayton Thorson was 9-for-23 for 70 yards as they finished with 201 yards of offense. Justin Jackson, though, had 120 yards rushing.

"All the stuff about speed, I think we're a pretty fast football team," Fitzgerald said. "I don't know what the thing is about people thinking the Big Ten can't run. I think we can run."

He also believes his team can contend in the West. And why not?

Nebraska lost, Wisconsin hasn't looked great, and Minnesota struggled to beat Kent State at home.

Too little, too late

Gotta give credit to Nebraska for the way it rallied in the fourth quarter against Miami. But the bottom line is the Cornhuskers are 1-2 for the first time since 1981.

Nebraska found itself in a 33-10 hole in the fourth quarter and nearly avoided an 0-3 start by putting together an amazing comeback and sending the game to overtime.

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. had four touchdown passes, including three in the fourth quarter. The last came with 33 seconds remaining.

Armstrong, however, threw his third interception to begin overtime, and Miami converted a 28-yard field goal.

"I didn't really see the corner," Armstrong said. "That's on me. I made throws. Some were great. Some were bad. That one cost us the game.."

Iowa a surprising 3-0

One of the better stories in the Big Ten through three weeks is Iowa, which is 3-0.

The latest victory was a thriller over Pittsburgh as kicker Marshall Koehn nailed a 57-yard field goal in the final minute for a 27-24 victory.

Former Michigan State defensive coordinator and current Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi called a timeout to ice Koehn just before he got a kick off that fell short. On his next attempt, Koehn nailed it.

"I kicked myself in the butt at the end," Narduzzi said. "That's what everybody does. You've got a timeout on the board, you're going to use it and try and freeze him a little bit. Obviously he's got ice in his veins."

It was another emotional win for the Hawkeyes as former safety Brent Greenwood was the honorary captain. Greenwood, who had five interceptions as a senior in 2010, collapsed during a workout in 2011 and was in a coma after suffering an anoxic brain injury caused by heart arrhythmia.

"It was an important win for us, an emotional win," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "To have Brett with us was a special treat. I think the will, the determination that Brett Greenwood has exemplified since 2011, I think some of that rubbed off on our team."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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