Bowls: Other Special
Games Page


Northwestern has, of course, played in many special games.  However, several 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 (most are no longer played), as well as for some postseason games that were not technically bowl games, including conference championships.  Here are Northwestern's special preseason and postseason games.

Postseason: Conference
Championship Games

Northwestern has eight Big Ten Championship titles (1903, 1926, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1995, 1996, and 2000), but none came via a postseason championship game. NU has played in three such games, one early in the twentieth century and two during the recent conference division era. All three of NU's championship games have been against Ohio State, and all three have been losses.

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 1916 Big Ten Championship

Played November 25, 1916.

Ohio Field, Columbus, OH.

Northwestern's 1916 regular season record: 6-0 overall; 4-0 Big Ten.

Coach: Fred Murphy.  Captain: A.H. Henry (unofficially, Paddy Driscoll was captain).

Opponent: Ohio State.

NU / OSU series record (prior to game): OSU led, 3-0.

Team 1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q Final
Northwestern 0 0 0 3 3
Ohio State
3 0 0 20 23

A regular season finale game that was treated in every way as a postseason conference chapionship match. Northwestern, a 10-to-8 underdog, traveled to Columbus to settle the Big Ten title (still called the Western Conference at the time, and nicknamed the Big Nine), powered by superstar Paddy Driscoll. However, Ohio State's halfback, Chick Harley, rose to the occasion to stop the Purple in the fourth quarter, ultimately scoring two touchdowns, kicking a field goal, and providing a solid defensive performance.

After the game, NU Coach Murphy said, "I am satisfied with my team. They played all the football I taught them, but were beaten by a better team. I have no excuses to offer and am proud of the fact that I developed a team which was a contender for the conference title."

Postseason: Depression Charity Games

1931 Charity Postseason Game

Played November 28, 1931.

Soldier Field, Chicago, IL.
Attendance: 35,000.

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.

Preseason: "Classic" Games

The 2022 Aer Lingus
College Football Classic

Played August 27, 2022.

Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland.
Attendance: 42,699.

Northwestern's 2022 record: 0-0.

Coach: Pat Fitzgerald. Captains: Adetomiwa Adebawore, Evan Hull, Peter Skoronski, Bryce Gallagher, Andrew Clair.

Opponent: Nebraska.

NU / Nebraska series record (prior to game): Nebraska led, 9-6.

Team 1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q Final
Northwestern 3 14 7 7 31
Nebraska 7 7 14 0 28

The Wildcats opened the 2022 college football season against Nebraska in Dublin, taking part in the seventh Aer Lingus College Football Classic (previously known as the Emerald Isle, Shamrock, and Croke Park Classic). It was the first time in NU's history that its football team played a game in a foreign country.

The 'Cats, which had been pasted by Nebraska, 56-7 the previous season, avenged that defeat by beating the 'Huskers 31-28 in Ireland. Ryan Hilinski threw two TDs and notched 314 passing yards, Evan Hull had 119 rushing yards, and Xander Mueller had five tackles and one interception.

The 1997 Pigskin Classic

Played August 23, 1997.

Soldier Field, Chicago, IL.

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.