For all intents and purposes, the modern history of Northwestern football began with the underdog story in 1995, with a team that made a shocking Rose Bowl run. Prior to that, the program hadn’t been to a bowl game since 1949 (save that date for later in this story).
Another Big Ten title followed the next season, with a co-championship four years after that. And from 2008 to 2017, Northwestern was one of college football’s most consistent programs. The Wildcats averaged 7.7 wins and racked up three 10-win seasons. However, a very grim reality is staring Northwestern football in the face this week, as they are 38 point underdogs to #2 Ohio State at home on Saturday.
If you’re betting with a no-deposit bonus code, you’ll see that’s as big a spread as you’ll ever see for a Big Ten conference game. We’ll double check, and get back to you on whether or not that is the all-time B1G league game record for a point spread, but it seems very likely.
Given how NU have not beaten OSU since 2004 and hold an all-time record of 14-64-1 against them, you can understand why the Buckeyes are favored by nearly 40 points. Unless the Wildcats spring the mother of all upsets or beat #14 Illinois (who crushed them 47-14 last season and will almost certainly be favored by 20+ when that game approaches) Pat Fitzgerald’s team will lose every single home game this year.
.@PaulMBanks discussed his optimism on Illinois football early in the season along with Northwestern & Notre Dame on “9 Good Minutes” on #WGNNewsNow. Watch the entire segment from @WGNNews here: https://t.co/t5Q6zF9bAg pic.twitter.com/qeOvGTwazM
— Larry Hawley (@HawleySports) September 23, 2022
From 2008-2017, NU never fell below five victories in a season. And in the last two even numbered years of 2018 and 2020, Northwestern won the Big Ten West.
However, this recent history now feels like an ancient tome, with anachronistic imagery, given the current state of affairs.
“The guys have to take practice to the game,” Fitzgerald said after a home blowout loss to a Wisconsin team that was so bad, they already fired their coach.
“We got to get them to settle them in and trust themselves. Trust yourself- that’s one of the one mottos of our program. Fundamentally and technically, get back to basics.
“Do a very heavy self-scout, what have we done well, how can we build around our playmakers on both sides of the ball.”
Northwestern hasn’t lost every single home game in a season since 1989, when Francis Peay went 0-11. Is it time to analogize the current state of affairs to the days of marshmallow fights in the stands and ‘Laking the Posts?’
Yes. When you lose 42-7 on Homecoming, on a day when you honor the 10th anniversary of the 2012 team (which ended that bowl game win drought, that was the 1949 reference) Yes, it is.
Or at least it felt that way just before halftime, when the Cats were trailing the Badgers 28-0. From the UW three-yard line, with the final seconds of halftime ticking away, Fitzgerald drew a ton of boos from the home crowd by electing to kick the chip shot field goal; instead of going for the touchdown.
Understandable why the boo birds came out, but on the other hand, you can also comprehend why Fitz would want to easily get some automatic points on the board.
So much for that, as the 20-yard FGA by Jack Olsen missed.
With that sequence, and result, Northwestern football brought back memories of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. Time for a disclaimer here- we are not saying things are going back to the dark ages. As fast as things can decline, they can also rapidly rebound.
We are just saying that it is time for a Northwestern football history lesson.
Peay, during his time in Evanston from 1986-1991, had 13 wins, 51 losses, and two ties.
His predecessor, Dennis Green, went 10-45, and yes, they were what we thought they were. Green, although largely due to the fault of his predecessor, was unable to prevent them from breaking the NCAA Division I record for consecutive losses.
A 61–14 loss to Michigan State in 1981 was the Cats’ 29th consecutive, breaking a record shared with Kansas State between 1945 and 1948, and Virginia between 1958 and 1961. (So “crown their asses” I guess)
On September 25, 1982, the losing streak ended at 34 with a win over Northern Illinois. NU students rushed the field, tore down the goalposts, and carried them about a mile to the beach, where they heaved them into Lake Michigan. For what it is worth, Green finished up at NU with a 10-45 record. And that aforementioned predecessor, who started the streak, Rick Venturi, went 1-31-1.
In 2022 Northwestern has lost at home to: a basketball school that sometimes actually tries to play football (Duke), a FCS opponent that had surrendered 60+ points to incarnate Word (Southern Illinois) and a MAC team that hasn’t been good and won’t be good even within the Mid-American Conference for quite some time (Miami of Ohio).
However, as bad as things may seem right now, they will never ever come anywhere close to the depths of the 1970s and 1980s. Yes, the 2020 year was strange and fluky, and maybe we need to look at the results of that season, for everyone, in the same manner that we look at the home run numbers in baseball from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s.
And yes, Northwestern football only won three games in 2019 and 2021, but remember where they were in 2018. Coming off a division title season, they had the number one ranked QB recruit in the nation (Hunter Johnson), and arguably the best, most state-of-the-art practice facility in the nation.
With that as a potential boon for recruiting, plus all the positives in the Northwestern football program at that point, things looked bright. So again, as quickly as things can fall, they can just as easily rise.
“There’s no magic pill, no magic formula,” Fitzgerald said about trying to turn the season around.
Paul M. Banks is the Owner/Manager of The Sports Bank and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”Follow paulmbanks