Bowls: Other Special
Games Page


Northwestern has, of course, played in many special games.  However, four games (besides the bowl matches) have been officially recognized as "special games" by the NCAA.  The NCAA sets aside separate records for special preseason "classic" games (no longer played), as well as for some postseason games that were not technically bowl games, including conference championships.  Here are the four such games that featured Northwestern.

The 2020 Big Ten Championship

Played December 19, 2020

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN.  Attendance: 3,178 (Restricted)

CFP #14 Northwestern's 2020 regular season record: 6-1 overall; 6-1 Big Ten, 1st in the West.

Coach: Pat Fitzgerald.  Captains: 2020 had no season captains; captains were chosen by week. Captains for the OSU Game: Nik Urban, Peyton Ramsey, JR Pace, Paddy Fisher, Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman.

Opponent: #4 Ohio State.

NU / OSU series record (prior to game): OSU led, 63-14.

Team 1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q Final
Northwestern 7 3 0 0 10
Ohio State
3 3 7 9 22

Northwestern took its second Big Ten West title in three years by running the table against the division, finishing the regular season 6-1, and ranked 14th in the CFP. The 'Cats faced #4 Ohio State, a team trying to make its way into the 2020-21 playoffs. While the CFP was a longshot for NU, a win against the Buckeyes would likely have paved the way to a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. However, Ohio State prevailed in a close, hard-fought rematch in Indy.

The Buckeyes were first to score, notching a 41-yard field goal midway through the first quarter. NU, however, stormed back. Cam Porter scored the Wildcats' only touchdown, a nine-yard run. In the second quarter, Charlie Kuhbander torched a 47-yarder to put NU up 10-3 on Ohio State, sending the Wildcat faithful into hysterics. Unfortunatley, Ohio State seized control of the rest of the scoring, putting up a pair of field goals and touchdowns.

The 2018 Big Ten Championship

Played December 1, 2018.

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN.  Attendance:

Northwestern's 2018 regular season record: 8-4 overall; 8-1 Big Ten, 1st in the West.

Coach: Pat Fitzgerald.  Captains: Clayton Thorson, Tommy Doles, Montre Hartage, Paddy Fisher.

Opponent: #6 Ohio State.

NU / OSU series record (prior to game): OSU led, 61-14.

Team 1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q Final
Northwestern 7 0 14 3 24
Ohio State
14 10 7 14 45

Northwestern claimed its first title of any sort since 2000 when it defeated Iowa in 2018 to clench the Big Ten West Division.  Eventually running the table in the West, NU faced sixth-ranked Ohio State in Indianapolis for a shot at the conference crown and an automatic trip to the Rose Bowl. The 'Cats put up a fierce, valiant effort, before bowing to the Buckeyes, 45 to 24. In his final, record-setting game as NU's starting quarterback, Clayton Thorson passed for 267 yards and a touchdown. John Moten IV ran for 76 yards and a score, while NU's breakout star, Isaiah Bowser, was held to 60 yards. Paddy Fisher notched 11 tackles.

The 1997 Pigskin Classic

Played August 23, 1997.

Soldier Field, Chicago, IL.  Attendance:

Northwestern's 1997 record: 0-0.

Coach: Gary Barnett.  Captains: Gardner, Strickwerda, Hughes.

Opponent: Oklahoma.

NU / Oklahoma series record (prior to game): NU led, 2-1.

Team 1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q Final
Northwestern 0 6 0 18 24
Oklahoma 0 0 0 0 0

Scoring: Second Qtr: NU - FG Gowins 27; NU - FG Gowins 22.  Fourth Qtr: NU - Leary 1 yd run (Autry run); NU - FG Gowins 40; NU - Brown 16 yd run (Gowins kick).

The 1997 Pigskin Classic was not exactly a classic match up.  Even with the drop in veteran talent from the previous season, Northwestern still was on a level clearly above a struggling Sooner team.  NU overpowered Oklahoma 24-0.  The Sooners drove deep into NU territory five times, only to come away with nothing.  Gowins kicked three field goals, including a 40-yarder.

1931 Charity Postseason Game

Played November 28, 1931.

Soldier Field, Chicago, IL.

Northwestern's 1931 record, prior to game: 7-0-1 overall, 5-0 conference.  Big Ten Champion.

Coach: Dick Hanley.  Captain: Dal Marvil.

Opponent: Purdue.

Team 1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q Final
Northwestern 0 0 0 0 0
Purdue 0 0 0 7 7

There was a series of postseason games specially scheduled at the conclusion of the regular season during the Great Depression to raise money for relief of the unemployed in response to the President’s Committee on Mobilization of Relief Resources and other charitable causes.  About 100 of these games were played from 1930-1934; of these, 21 were between major college teams, including one between NU and Purdue in 1931. 

Even though the game was not scheduled as part of the regular season, it counted in the stats as a regular season game. The Wildcats and Boilermakers slugged all afternoon at Soldier Field, but neither side could come close to scoring.  As the fourth quarter drew to a close, it looked like Northwestern would claim its second scoreless tie during an otherwise perfect season and would take the Big Ten title (and perhaps the national title) uncontested.  However, an errant pass by Wildcat QB George Potter was intercepted, and Purdue returned the ball to the Northwestern 15-yard line.  Two plays later the Boilermakers scored the only touchdown of the game and pulled the upset.

The loss in the charity game was Northwestern’s first conference defeat since 1929, and it forced NU to share the 1931 Big Ten championship with Purdue and Michigan.  Still, the campus celebrated the team’s first ever back-to-back titles with bonfires and dances.