2008 Season
Review Page



In several ways 2008 will be remembered as a landmark season for Northwestern.  It was Coach Pat Fitzgerald's third season as the Wildcats' head coach, and it was the breakout year for him and for his teams.  The '08 Wildcats' nine wins put them in an elite set with only four other teams in NU's history. 

Coach Fitzgerald garnered national attention for the first time as a head coach, taking the Touchdown Club of Columbus's Big Ten Coach of the Year Award, and placing third for the Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year Award (Fitz also placed third in the Liberty Mutual voter poll for the best Div. I-A coach).  Fitz's induction into the College Football Hall of Fame this year was well-timed.

The season began with a set of five straight wins, NU's best start to a season since 1962, and its first sweep of the regular season non-conference slate since 1963.  A 5-3 Big Ten record included impressive road wins at Iowa and Michigan.  The regular season finale against Illinois showcased one of the most powerful performances by the 'Cats in recent memory, and it secured for Northwestern the Sweet Sioux Trophy, in the award's last season.  NU's nine wins are all the more impressive when one considers the list of injuries that plagued the Wildcats throughout the second half of the season.

A trip to the 2008 Alamo Bowl climaxed this solid season.  Although the 'Cats did not come away with the win, they did put in an impassioned performance, taking Missouri to overtime before bowing.

The 'Cats were led on offense by a set of seniors in the skill positions who were ready to power the team into the Big Ten elite: staring quarterback C.J. Bachér, running back Tyrell Sutton, and receivers Eric Peterman, Ross Lane, and Rasheed Ward.  However, the big surprise of the season came on defense, and it came with the shocking turnaround orchestrated by new coordinator Mike Hankwitz.  NU's defense, anchored by team MVP Corey Wootton, was 25th in the nation in passing defense, and 23rd best in points allowed.

What follows are excerpts from some of the comments posted on this site during the course of the 2008 season.  Please note that the comments posted below were only the ones written by me.  The bulk of articles on HailToPurple.com in 2008 came from jhodges and the other contributors.  For their 2008 commentary and analysis, please check out the pages for jhodges, the Waterboy and the Lowes Line.  (Links to the jhodges 2008 articles are up, and 2008 links for the Waterboy and the Lowes Line will come later this month)

McGee Hog-Bound [posted Jan. 2, 2008]

When the Wildcats take the field against Syracuse in August, they will do so with a new set of coordinators.

With NU offensive coordinator Garrick McGee's departure this month for Arkansas, Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald must now replace both his coordinators, after having let defensive coordinator Greg Colby go at the end of last season.

Coach Fitzgerald has confirmed that McGee resigned in order to become quarterbacks coach at Arkansas, a move that was first publicly mentioned on TheTurkReport.com, and later reported by the Daily Herald and the Pioneer Press.  In the official announcement on January 2, Coach Fitzgerald stated, "I plan to start our search for a new coordinator immediately. We are sticking with our current offensive philosophy and want to maintain our reputation of having one of the most diverse and dangerous spread attacks in the country."

The Daily Herald story, written by Adam Rittenberg, mentions the likely internal candidates for each coordinator position: wide receivers coach Kevin Johns and linebackers coach Randy Bates.  However, there is not a clear indication that Coach Fitzgerald will choose an internal candidate, and Rittenberg also mentions former NU defensive assistant coach Tim Kish as a possibility (but also notes that former NU DC Ron Vanderlinden is not a candidate for the job, despite the rumors and wishful thinking from several 'Cat fans last month).

Reports: Fitz Gets Hankwitz for DC;
Hires McCall for OC;
Washington Heads to Bears [posted Jan. 12 & 13]

The NU football staff continues its fundamental changes during this eventful offseason.  Close on the trail of the recent announcements that NU Athletic Director Mark Murphy was heading for Green Bay and Coach Fitzgerald had fired Defensive Coordinator Greg Colby, fans have also learned that Offensive Coordinator Garrick McGee and Defensive Line Coach Eric Washington are leaving, and that NU is poised to name its new football coordinators this week.

Hankwitz to DC

Coach Fitzgerald has picked up former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. 

Hankwitz has, to say the least, and impressive resume.  He led the Badger defense in 2006 and 2007, a defense that ranked fifth overall in the nation in '06.  Before that, Hankwitz served as the DC at Colorado, and was Colorado's interim head coach for their bowl game in 2005 after the school fired... Gary Barnett.  During an earlier stint as Colorado's DC, Hankwitz contributed to the Buffaloes' 1990 national title (as did then OC... Gary Barnett).  Hankwitz was also DC-- and also interim head coach-- at Arizona, and served as DC at Texas A&M, Western Michigan and Kansas.  He also served as an assistant coach at Purdue. 

Hankwitz, besides having probably more diverse and varied experience as a Division I defensive coordinator than anyone currently coaching, is known as a master motivator.  According to the Texas A&M bio that was linked earlier on the Rivals message board,  "As a motivational tool, Hankwitz, along with the help of the A&M video department, occasionally put together a six- or seven-minute highlight film that incorporated music, graphics, movie clips, motivational messages and game footage."  He was known as "the Mad Scientist."

Welcome, Coach Hankwitz!

McCall to OC

Also, the Sporting News reported on January 10 that NU will name Bowling Green offensive coordinator Mick McCall as its new OC, replacing the departing Garrick McGee. 

When BGSU Head Coach Gregg Brandon promoted McCall to the Falcons' OC last year, he noted McCall's "wealth of experience to share and his ability to communicate and relate to the players on the offensive side of the ball." 
Before last season, McCall had been the Falcons' QB coach.  Wildcat fans are experienced with Coach McCall's quarterback coaching work: it was a McCall-coached Josh Harris who threw against NU in the 2003 Motor City Bowl.

Considering that Coach McGee also served as NU's quarterback coach, Coach McCall seems to be a logical fit into the Wildcat staff.  McCall also has experience coaching running backs (at Wyoming), and also served as an assistant coach at Oregon State from 1988-90, at Idaho State from 1983-87 and at the University of Southern Colorado from 1979-82 (another Colorado connection... who happened to be working for Gregg Brandon... hmm...  mysterious, or not so mysterious, forces seem to be lurking about).

Welcome, Coach McCall!

Washington to the Chicago Bears

Defensive line coach Eric Washington is leaving the program.  Washington, who spent four seasons with the 'Cats, will take a position with the Chicago Bears.

With the rapid changes now in play in Evanston, it is clear that Coach Fitzgerald is shaping the staff and putting his stamp on the program.  Given the reaction from many fans in Wisconsin and Ohio, who have shown the value they put on the two incoming coordinators, it would seem that Fitz's moves have been well-played.  The staff is becoming more balanced, with both younger and more experienced coaches who are bringing experience from nearly every position and confernece.  An already exciting offseason is starting to show a lot of potential for entertainment.

Coach Fitzgerald Announces NU's Class of 2012 [posted Feb. 6]

Coach Fitzgerald on Wednesday formally announced NU football's class of 2012, describing the 20 incoming students who that morning signed letters of intent.  The commitments came from players spanning nearly every position.  The current slate of recruits is split nearly evenly between offense and defense; among the 11 or so offensive players, at least five are on the line.  There were, however, no recruits devoted specifically to special teams.  The players come from across the country, but there is a concentration (at least six) of Illinois players. 

As he announced the class, Coach Fitzgerald praised his current players for their role in the recruiting process, by the way in which they represented the program and the school.  Coach Fitzgerald also mentioned the recruiting advantage NU has because of its national exposure: "[NU football] is on the Big Ten Network or it's on ESPN, and that marketibility gives us the opportunity to go out and recruit young men throughout the country."  Click here for NU's official announcement, and here for the running blog that NUSports.com posted during the morning of signing day.

As of February 6 Scout.com ranks Northwestern's incoming class 68th in the nation (down from a 60th ranking on Jan. 8), just above Duke.  Scout ranks NU last in the Big Ten, and it puts OSU, Michigan and Illinois at the top of the conference.

Rivals has NU at 10th in the Big Ten, ahead of Indiana.  Rivals ranks OSU, Michigan, and Minnesota (Minnesota?) at the top.  Rivals has the 'Cats 72nd nationally (down from 64th on Jan. 8), behind Duke.

. . . Please note that HailToPurple.com does not follow recruiting efforts, nor do I have interest in the recruiting process, crucial though it is-- for more detailed info and analysis, be sure to check out Lou V.'s work at Rivals and NU fan Turk's commentary on The Turk Report.

Jim Phillips to Be Named A.D. [posted Feb. 27]

The Dekalb Daily Chronicle on Wednesday morning reported that Dr. Jim Phillips had been offered the Northwestern athletic director position, and that he would accept the position in the coming days.  NU has been looking for a permanent replacement for former A.D. Mark Murphy, who left Evanston to take over the Green Bay Packers at the beginning of the year.

If the report is correct, Northwestern will have landed a new director who many people believe was the school's first choice for the job.  In fact, Phillips might have been a close second for the job back in 2003, when he was Assistant A.D. at Notre Dame, and when NU gave the nod to Murphy instead. 

Phillips would definitely seem to be a great fit for NU.  He has raised the level of NIU marketing in the Chicago area to a point competing with (and some would argue, surpassing) Northwestern and the Big Ten. He made academic excellence his most important goal at NIU, and according to NIU's Website, his teams have achieved the highest average GPA in the school's history.  And he has shown leadership potential among his colleagues, serving as the chairman of the MAC Athletic Directors Council.

Phillips has been a powerful force for fundraising and investment, responsible for a $14 million new facility on the NIU campus.  "Prior to Phillips' arrival [to NIU], only one six-figure gift was made to intercollegiate athletics, and under his tenure that tally has risen to 27," his official bio states.  When he took the NIU job he gave fundraising a new visibility, stating, "Building the program means building our budget. . . We have to give our coaches and staff additional support for travel, recruiting, scholarships and academic services. It means we have to increase private fundraising, but it also means we have to increase corporate sponsorships, television sponsorships, ticket sales, apparel and shoe contracts — every aspect of the revenue picture."  And he succeeded, landing contracts with Adidas and increasing every other aspect of the program's financial picture.

Before coming to NIU, Phillips had been assistant in charge of fundraising at Arizona State, Assistant A.D. at Tennessee, and Associate A.D. at Notre Dame.

Media 2008 Previews and Predictions for the 'Cats
[posted throughout the summer]

The annual college football magazines have appeared at the newsstands, offering their picks and predictions.  The slate of previews typically begins with the annual magazines from Athlon and Lindy's and concludes with the Big Ten's August media event, when the conference announces its official front runner.

Typically, the print prognosticators do not favor NU.  Of course, most of these previews are written by magazines trying to sell copies, and favoring the biggest teams (that is to say, the teams with the biggest followings) is a profitable strategy.  However, NU has occasionally bucked that trend and the conventional thinking: in 2001, coming off its Big Ten title, NU was a Big Ten favorite in many of the preseason predictions.

For the past few years, however, most media typically place NU at ninth place in the conference, ahead of Indiana and one school from the group of Illinois, Michigan State or Minnesota.  There is also what I call the "Heinz Line" at the 57 spot nationally: if a magazine favors NU, it will place the 'Cats just above the 57th spot among the ranked Division I-A teams; a bad prognostication consigns NU to a lower rank.  If the sportswriter has no overly optimistic or pessimistic feel for the team, he will invariably rank NU at 57.  This year, however, appears to be an exception, as you'll see from the list of previews below.  The "Heinz Line" doesn't appear to hold.

As for last year's previews and predictions, several sources tied for the most accurate prediction, picking NU to win at least six games and compete for a bowl slot.  The least accurate picks were by the always-wrong Sporting News, who picked NU last in the conference, and Rivals, who also tabbed NU for the basement.

As has been the case since summer 2000, HailToPurple.com is posting a recap of what the larger 'Net and print publications have predicted so far for NU in 2008.      

The 2008 Wildcat Predictions:
  • The first magazine out this spring was Lindy's, and it dropped NU from the 57th spot, where it had the 'Cats last year, to 82nd, predicting that NU will finish 11th in the conference.  Mark it down: Lindy's will find itself, for the first time, holding the title of "least accurate prediction" at the end of the season.  The magazine adds insult to injury by calling Fitzgerald "a determined coach. . . who will want to get out of NU," apparently forgetting just who Coach Fitzgerald is.  Lindy's rates NU's special teams and every defensive unit either 10th or last in the Big Ten
  • Want to wash the bitter taste of Lindy's out of your maws?  Look no further than Sports Illustrated, which has an uncharacteristically optimistic prediction.  SI places NU 50th nationally, over Notre Dame (52nd) and-- shockingly-- over Michigan (54th).  NU rates 7th in the Big Ten; in addition to Michigan, SI puts NU over Purdue, Minny, and Indy.  It predicts a 7-5 record overall, and 4-4 in the conference.  Eric Peterman is singled out as a star player.
  • The Fox Sports affiliate CollegeFootballNews.com ranks NU 51st in the nation, ahead of Indiana and Minnesota.  This is the highest position that CFN has placed NU above the "Heinz Line" in years.  CFN predicts a 6-6 record, with the 'Cats sweeping its non-conference slate (a bold, bold pick!), but struggling to only two wins in the Big Ten.  CFN cites the center as the key, make or break position for NU this fall.
  • Athlon magazine is also mildly optimistic for the Wildcats, placing them 53rd nationally and 8th in the Big Ten, over Purdue and the MinnyIndies.
  • The folks over at Rivals have tapped the Heinz Line, putting NU at 57th, and 8th in the conference, over Iowa (!) and IndyMinny.  They spotlight Keegan Kennedy, mentioning his potential to be All-Big Ten.  Of course, they also single out John Gill, C.J. Bacher, and Tyrell Sutton.  "Don't be shocked if Northwestern is within striking distance of first place in the Big Ten in November." -- Quite a leap from Rivals' last-place prediction for NU in '07.
  • Always anticipated, Phil Steele has said that "seven of my eight power ratings have Northwestern winning seven or more games."  Steele has NU in the Insight Bowl vs. Oklahoma State.  Since the Insight Bowl typically goes to the sixth place Big Ten team, this equates to the highest prediction for the conference finish.  Huzzah!
  • USA Today rates NU 11th in the Big Ten.  Does anyone over 14 years old still read USA Today?
  • Dennis Dodd at CBS's Sportsline doesn't see much for the 'Cats this year.  He puts NU at 10th in the conference, ahead of Minnesota.  "Pat Fitzgerald did wonders in two seasons after taking over for Randy Walker. The Wildcats were 6-6 last season and could be knocking on the door of a bowl this season. Quarterback C.J. Bacher could be the Big Ten's most entertaining quarterback this side of Juice Williams. Nomad defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz inherits a respectable defense. Defensive tackle John Gill is an NFL prospect."
  • Webmaster James Howell calculates weekly "Power Rankings" during the season.  His 2008 preseason power ratings have NU in 75th place nationally, and tenth place in the conference, ahead of the Gophers.
  • Another, more famous power rating is published by Sagarin, who also puts NU 10th in the Big Ten (ahead of Indiana, however), and has NU 74th nationally.
  • The Chicago Tribune simply remarks, "There is no reason to think the Wildcats can't win eight games."  The Trib notes that NU must perform with more consistency than it did last season, "which it transformed into a roller-coaster ride that was wildly inexplicable and ultimately unsuccessful."
  • ESPN SportsCenter's Mel Kiper made a surprise pick by picking Northwestern as, well, his surprise pick.  Kiper sees NU going 8-4.
  • Andy Gamm's The Final Score has NU tied for 9th in the conference.  Gamm also thinks that NU will sweep the non-conference and win two in the Big Ten, potentially getting an at large bowl berth.
Ed. note: Each year's Season Review Page includes the media's preseason predictions.  Which was the media source with the most accurate prediction for 2008?  The winner this year is Mel Kiper.  Kiper's 8-4 pick was only one win off, and it edged out very good predictions from Phil Steele and the Chicago Tribune.  Sports Illustrated also came close, earning special mention for ranking NU so far ahead of Michigan. 

There was a tie this year for the dog pick.  The worst predictions were from Lindy's (as expected: see the commentary above) and USA Today.

During the early part of the season, I did not provide any content.  Be sure to check out jhodges for the  previews and post-game analysis for the first three games of 2008.

NU's Defensive Effort vs. Ohio: Five Sacks;
NU's Special Teams: Two Blocked FGs
[posted Sept. 20]

A personal note about today's win over Ohio:

I've been going to Northwestern games since 1988.  I had the privilege of witnessing the awesome defense of the 1995 season, as well as many other good seasons.  I can honestly say that I've never witnessed a more spirited performance by the Wildcat defense than what they showed today.  It was a thing of beauty.

The special teams performance also has me searching for some superlative performance in the past; I'd have to go back at least four seasons to find a suitable comparison.

Congratulations to the Wildcats, the special teams, the defense, Coach Hankwitz and Coach Fitzgerald.

Remains Among the Unbeatens [posted Sept. 28]

As ranked team after ranked team fell last Saturday in a raft of upsets throughout college football, attention was diverted from a story that has been quietly brewing in Evanston.  Shh, don't tell anyone yet, but it just might be magic time for the Northwestern Wildcats again.  As everyone in 'Catland knows as well as his own phone number by now, NU's thrilling win over Iowa, 22-17 on the road, puts it at 5-0 for the first time since 1962 and on the cusp of a truly special season.  However, for the rest of the football world, NU is still a footnote to a week of perceived giants and giant killers.  The 'Cats are creeping, stealthily, and now they are ready and about to pounce on the unsuspecting.

Count the Hawkeyes among those unsuspecting.  Iowa rolled out to a seemingly easy 17 to 3 lead against NU at Kinnick Stadium, as the Wildcat offense continued to have some of the same issues with protection, skill position timing, and playcalling that it had shown in the nonconference. 

But after those somewhat sluggish offensive performances in the first third of the season, which saw Bacher throw more interceptions than touchdowns, the third quarter at Iowa was the welcome back party that fans had hoped Bacher would throw.  And throw he did: Bacher carved up the Hawkeyes in the third quarter, standing behind a brick-solid line.  By the end of the day Bacher had thrown three TDs: two to Eric Peterman and another to Rasheed Ward. 

Ward had 94 yards and hands of velcro and the game of his career.  In the third quarter Ross Lane showed NFL moves as he threaded through the Iowa defense to pick up a huge first down.  Tyrell Sutton exemplified the new offensive mix that the 'Cats had regained, picking up 77 yards on the ground and 72 yards receiving.  In fact, Sutton led the NU receivers in yards per catch, with 12.

Despite a few early foibles, the defense continues to show that it is light years better and beyond what it had been in the past decade.  Yes, NU's D. allowed Iowa over 400 yards, but the Hawkeye offense is strong and a good test for this team.  The 'Cats held Iowa to only three of nine first down conversion efforts.  The big stat, however, is the five turnovers that Iowa's offense and special teams gave up, including a pick by Vince Brown and a jaw-dropping hit by Brad Phillips that resulted in a fumble.  Gill and Wootton also had spectacular performances, including a game-breaking, monster sack by Wootton in the fourth quarter.

Most importantly, the defense held at the moment of truth, even after an egregiously reviewed play resulted in Iowa getting a first down deep into the Wildcat red zone, despite the evidence of a fumble that was recovered by NU.  With a first down near NU's goal and four chances to win the game, Iowa was stoned immaculately by the white-shirts, sealing the deal for NU and its magical season so far.

You might ask if all of this "Wildcats undefeated" talk is making too much out of five too littles.  Is this magic time for Northwestern?  Is it time again to bathe the Hancock building in purple light and break out the plane tickets to somewhere warm?  Or has NU done nothing more than stumble through a weak non-conference slate, only to be given a five-piece turnover gift set by the Hawkeyes?

Well, let's take the non-conference schedule first.  Weak sisters or not, the fact remains that NU wrote a "W" next to each of their names, something that no Wildcat team was able to do in over 45 years.  And these sisters?  Not so weak.  After being edged by NU, Duke has gone on to beat Navy (which just slapped around an undefeated Wake Forest team) and absolutely destroy Virginia.  Ohio put 51 points up in a win over VMI, and even FCS team Southern Illinois followed up being beaten by NU by upsetting FCS #5-ranked Northern Iowa.

As for non-Northern Iowa: yes, one could argue (wrongly) that Iowa lost this game, more than NU won it.  The Hawkeyes would have been challenged to win the game with five turnovers. But this is just the very feat Northwestern accomplished the week before: the 'Cats turned the ball over five times to Ohio and still found a way to win.  "I don't think I've ever been involved in a game where you turn the ball over five times and win it," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after the game.  Kirk Ferentz is no Pat Fitzgerald.  And the Hawkeyes aren't the Wildcats, who appear to be able to pick any lock that guards victory.  True, Iowa gave NU some breaks; NU simply took some others from Iowa, and NU found the way to win. 

Look at many of the games NU won during the legendary 1995 run.  Against a decent-- but by no means great-- Illinois team, NU found itself down, and found a few ways to make things change, and found the way to win.  If the 2008 edition of the Wildcats has found this elixir, this way to find the path to victory, no matter what, then this just might be magic time again. 

This team has shown, in fragments last year and in vast chunks this year, that it has all the talent it needs to win.  Now it just needs these fragments to join together, to make a whole, and to point the way to the next win.  From here on out, it will be a daunting path indeed, twisting through the heart of the best of the Big Ten.  But it leads to legend, and the Wildcats are ready. 

NU's 2008 Undefeated Start:
A Historical Perspective [posted Oct. 3]

Given the attention the Wildcats are receiving for their impressive 5-0 run through the first portion of the 2008 season, it might be notable to look at some of the seasons of Northwestern football in the Twentieth Century that also began with long undefeated runs.  How do the 'Cats of (20) '08 stack up with, say the 'Cats of (19) '05?  Below are details of some of these Wildcat seasons with unblemished starts, with descriptions taken from the book Northwestern Wildcat Football: Images of Sports.


To begin, let's look at the season that has already been evoked so much, 1962.  That was, of course, the last time the 'Cats went 5-0 to begin a season.

NU Coach Ara Parseghian had recruited bright, easily adaptable players who, because they might have been overlooked by the bigger schools, had something to prove and came to Northwestern with fierce motivation.  Parseghian himself had become a key recruitment advantage.  By beating Notre Dame three years running before 1962 and having his team continuously in the AP Poll, Parseghian had become one of the hottest coaches in the country.

Parseghian's-- and the Wildcats'-- strengths reached their peak during the 1962 season.  The team was stocked with veteran talent. . . The star of '62 was a 19 year-old sophomore from Troy, Ohio.  Quarterback Tom Myers was making his first start for NU.

Myers and receiver Paul Flatley began the Wildcats' aerial circus by hosting South Carolina and bombing the Gamecocks, 37-20.  They routed Illinois, 45-0.  Minnesota, the defending Rose Bowl champion in '62, possessed one of the best defenses in the country.  On October 13, Minnesota hosted the red-hot 'Cats and lost, 34-22, giving up more points to Northwestern than they would to all their other 1962 opponents combined.  In their first three games, the Wildcats had compiled 116 points and had skyrocketed to eighth place in the nation.

NU then traveled to Columbus.  Woody Hayes' team was coming off of an undefeated season and was looking to repeat as Big Ten champions.  When the game started, it seemed that the Buckeyes would have no problem doing just that-- OSU took the opening kickoff and ran it 90 yards back for a touchdown.  The Ohio Stadium record crowd of 84,376 went into a frenzy.  However, Myers and Flatley continued their air campaign.  Myers racked up 177 passing yards [astronomical for the early 1960s), and Flatley had 10 receptions.  The pair teamed up for an 8-yard touchdown that brought NU back.  Ohio State, meanwhile, repeatedly gave the ball to the 'Cats: NU recovered two Buckeye fumbles and intercepted once.  Most shocking, however, were the four Buckeye turnovers on downs.  Hayes refused to surrender the ball to NU on fourth down, and Ohio State paid.  In the most spectacular series of the game, Ohio State had the ball on a first down at the Wildcat five yard line.  Hayes decided to pound the ball down NU's throat.  The NU line held for three rushes.  On fourth down and a yard to go, Ohio State's quarterback, about to attempt another plunge, surged forward too soon and drew a false start.  OSU faced fourth down and six and finally tried a pass.  The receiver, however, was an ineligible lineman.  The penalty included a loss of down, and the NU defense had rendered the Buckeye drive scoreless.

. . . As the game ended NU fans came out of the Ohio Stadium stands and helped carry Ara Parseghian, Woody Hayes' former assistant, off the field.  Parseghian called the game "one of NU's greatest victories."  Hayes was in tears as he strode toward the lockers.  In Evanston, 2,000 celebrating fans clogged Deering Meadow.

Remarkably, 55,752 fans packed themselves into Dyche Stadium for a showdown with Notre Dame, setting the all-time record for the stadium, to this day the largest crowd to see a Northwestern home game played on-campus.  The game was also NU's homecoming, the only time in the school's history that its homecoming opponent was not a Big Ten team.   The game was never close.  NU dismantled Notre Dame, 35-6. 

Flatley makes a spectacular catch vs. the Irish

The victory was the most lopsided game in the Notre Dame - Northwestern series up to that time, and it gave NU four straight wins over the Irish.  A day later, the AP gave Northwestern the number one ranking for the first time since 1936.  For the first and only time in the team's history, the 'Cats were also at the top of the UPI rankings.

NU went on to beat Indiana, going 6-0 and keeping its number one ranking.  Unfortunately, injuries had begun to stack up for NU, and further injuries inflicted during the Indiana game were just too much to keep the 'Cats at full strength.  NU dropped its next two games, but wrapped up its 7-2 season by pounding the Miami Hurricanes at Dyche Stadium.


Parseghian had begun his tenure at NU in 1956 and had gone .500 in the Big Ten.  But he had not begun with a very strong program, and by the next year the program's shortcomings and the painful rebuilding took a toll, and NU went winless.  By 1958, however, Parseghian's rebuilding was in full swing, starting with relentless and revamped recruiting efforts.  In 1959 the work was rewarded.  Led by Ron Burton, Gene Gossage, James Andreotti and Mike Stock, the 'Cats tore through their first six games undefeated, earning a number two spot in the national rankings that they held for a monumental six weeks (LSU was a juggernaut in '59 and kept the number one spot).


Pappy Waldorf's Big Ten champion team won its first seven games and swept its conference slate before losing the last game of the season (and the national championship) to Notre Dame.  The highlight of the season was the win over sitting national champion Minnesota, the fifth straight win for the 'Cats in '36:

Saturday was Halloween, and it brought Big Ten titan Minnesota into Dyche Stadium.  Minnesota's unbeaten streak had now grown to 28 games; with NU poised undefeated, the game snowballed into the event of the season.  Arrangements were made to broadcast the game by radio nationally, one of the first NU games to be heard by a national audience.

The audiences, both via radio and the 49,000 in person at Dyche, were not let down.  In one of the greatest defensive games ever played by Northwestern, the Wildcats became the immovable object that overcame the irresistible force-- the (up until then) high-scoring Gopher backfield.  The teams slugged at each other relentlessly in the rain and held the other side scoreless through the middle of the third quarter.

Deep in their own territory, the Gophers fumbled.  And ensuing penalty gave the Wildcats the ball at the Minnesota one-yard line.  the capacity crowd at Dyche shot to its feet, and then exploded into deafening celebration as Ollie Adelman broke into the end zone for a touchdown and the only points scored in the game.  Steve Toth, who had conducted a Wildcat punting clinic throughout the game, missed the extra point.  Neither team had another chance to score. 

As the game ended, wild celebrations spilled out of Dyche Stadium and streamed into Evanston and onto Chicago's Loop.  Thousands of students and fans, along with the marching band, gathered at Fountain Square in Evanston Monday morning to enjoy a pep rally and celebration. 

The win propelled NU into a number one ranking in the AP weekly poll.  The 1936 season was the first to use the AP ranking system, and Northwestern had been ranked fourth in the country in the first-ever weekly poll.  Just three weeks after the AP's debut, the Northwestern Wildcats were perched alone atop it and were positioned to take their first true national title.

Alas, the national title  (at least as recognized by the AP) was not to be for NU.  After the Notre Dame loss to NU at the end of the year, NU relinquished its number one spot to... Minnesota?  Yet, in one of the great flukes in sports history, Minnesota took the #1 spot in the nation in 1936, but only the #2 spot in its own conference.  Some historical polls do still give NU the 1936 national title.

1930 and 1931

Dick Hanley's back to back Big Ten title seasons both began with impressive undefeated runs that lasted the entire season, only to lose the last game of the season-- and with it, the national title each season.

The 1930 team simply destroyed its first seven opponents.  No team could score more than a touchdown against the 'Cats, who were averaging 26 points a game (during an era of three yards and a cloud of dust).  In a finale that garnered tremendous national attention, the 'Cats fell to the strongest (and last) Notre Dame team that Knute Rockne had ever assembled, 14-0.

The 1931 team began the season by beating Nebraska, but then tied defending champ Notre Dame 0-0 at Soldier Field.  NU went on to win its next six, compiling seven wins, no losses, and the tie with the Irish.  This would have been good enough for a national title for NU.  However, after the season was to end, the 'Cats decided to play an additional game in late November-- a charity game with Purdue at Soldier Field to raise money for Depression relief.  The Boilermakers ruined NU's lossless season and national title hopes by upsetting them, 7-0.  Despite the loss to Purdue, NU still took a share of the conference championship.


Another season that began with six perfect wins, only to be marred with a loss in the season finale in a huge game.  This time the spoiler was Ohio State: one of the best Buckeye teams in that program's history, led by Chick Harley.  NU's Patty Driscoll nearly single-handedly carried the Purple to a national title, shutting out powerful Chicago and crushing Purdue 38 to 6 to set up the showdown with OSU.

1904 and 1905

Jimmie Johnson, who, as a star for Carlisle had played against NU in the Purple's season finale in 1903, now joined Northwestern (as a Dental grad student) and carried the Purple, much as Driscoll would in 1916.  Along with Harry Allen, Johnson powered NU to wins in its first five games in 1904 and 1905.  For both seasons, five proved to be the end of the flawless starts: the '04 team then lost to Chicago (at the time, the most powerful team in the nation), and the '05 edition tied Transylvania, KY., before also losing to Chicago.  However, both of these teams would go on to compile eight-win seasons.


We close with the greatest start for any NU team in the Twentieth Century.  Yes, one can argue that the 1995 team was better, but the 1903 team had the biggest unbroken string of W's to start a season.  In fact, the Purple in 1903 had eight of them, tearing through the following teams:

  • North Division H.S., 17-5 [Most colleges had "warm up" games with high schools during this era.]
  • Fort Sheridan, 28-0 [Many military bases, not just the Academies, had college-level teams in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  Fort Sheridan was actually a solid team.]
  • Englewood H.S., 35-0
  • Naperville College, 22-6
  • Alumni, 5-0 [Another common occurrence in the early part of the century was to play an alumni team or team of graduates from another school. ]
  • Lombard College, 24-0
  • Chicago Dental, 18-11 [Here is the fun one.  NU's official records and media guide record this game as a loss for NU.  In fact, NU won this game.  Every contemporary source available gives an account of a win by Northwestern.  Click here for the Chicago Tribune's account of NU's win over Chicago Dental.  Scroll down to the black box.]
  • Washington (Mo.) 23-0 [This is Wash. U. in St. Louis, and NU played them as part of the 1903-04 World's Fair.]
Eight games, eight wins.  They might not be the strongest teams in the nations, but-- much like 2008-- NU still put them away and found ways to win.  The ninth game of '03 was against national power Chicago, and NU was, despite its 8-0 record, a heavy underdog.  But the Purple denied the Chicago backfield a chance to score, and the biggest game in the conference that year ended in a 0-0 tie and led to NU eventually snagging a piece of the conference championship.  NU would go on to beat Cincinnati and Illinois, tie Notre Dame and Wisconsin and fall to national stars Carlisle for a 10 win, one loss, three tie record.

What does looking at these previous unsullied starts for NU tell us, then, about 2008?  It just might say that, even when playing lesser competition-- S.I.U. in 2008, Naperville College in 1903-- the ability to win is not guaranteed.  We could have put up many more examples from the last 110 years or so of a Wildcat team that was very, very good, but still messed up its early season by dropping a game it could have won.  1995 comes immediately to mind.  The seasons listed above might have included a few fluky wins in the each victory stretch, but each of these NU teams were anything but fluky:

  • 1903: Big Ten co-champ, 10 wins (equaled only by the 1995 team);
  • 1904 and 1905: 8-2 records;
  • 1916: played for a national title, 2nd in the Big Ten;
  • 1930 and 1931: played for a national title, Big Ten co-champs;
  • 1936: played for a national title, Big Ten champs;
  • 1959: ranked in the top five longer than any NU team, with two All Americans
  • 1962: 3rd in the Big Ten, also with two All-Americans
On the Rivals Board this past week, former defensive lineman Matt Rice compared the current team to the storied '95 unit:

"As I watch this 2008 defense, they are better than the 95 D in so many ways. They have that same relentlessness, but with more playmaking ability, especially in the front four. These guys can win their next seven games. However, I would be surprised if many (or any) victories are of larger margins than 7 points. If the offense can keep progressing, this team can be something special.

"This 5-0 2008 team has lot of improvement they need to make. However, they have all the ingredients they need to get it done. . .  The 95 team was good enough to beat Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan, but was average enough to lose to Miami Ohio. The margin of victory was extremely tight every week. This 2008 team is no different."

The talent, the tools are there, and this 2008 team has the potential to reach the accomplishments of any of the previous "gold starters" --and perhaps even best them.      

NU Vs. MSU: The Purple Haze Game [posted Oct. 3]

Current NU students are organizing a drive to make next Saturday's game against MSU a "Purple Haze" game.  They are urging everyone to wear as much purple as possible and to attend the game at Ryan Field if humanly possible.  Click here to read NU senior Dan Desmond's "Call to Action" on the North By Northwestern site.  All indicatons are that the student turnout for this game will be very high, and campus interest is starting to reach the levels we saw back in 2000.  Lake The Posts, in the spirit of the "Purple Haze" movement, has even snatched up 50 seats for the game!

jhodges is reporting that NUMB will be jumping into the Purple Haze theme by playing the Hendrix classic from the stands.  For all of us alumni who have debated on and off whether NUMB has ever played this tune during a game, the debate will be settled once and for all.  Let the Sensation on Central Street start, and the Spanking of the Spartans commence!

'Cats Crack Coaches' Poll at #22;
First Ranking for NU Since '05 [posted Oct. 5]

NU is a ranked team, for the first time since the Sun Bowl season in 2005.  NU was named the 22nd team in the country by the USA Today Coaches' Poll, with  231 points, ranked just ahead of Auburn and Wisconsin. . .

Congratulations to the 'Cats, and to Coach Fitzgerald for his first ranked team as a head coach. . .

Sutton to Have Surgery on Wrist;
Bachér Status Uncertain [posted Oct. 26]

The Chicago Tribune reported Saturday night that NU starting running back Tyrell Sutton will have surgery for an injury he sustained to his wrist during the loss to Indiana.  The Trib quotes Coach Fitzgerald saying, "For someone who has first-hand experience with a major injury, I know how challenging this is for Tyrell," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But our football team will respond."

Sutton left the game in the third quarter after collecting 77 yards.

We should learn more on Monday about the (apparent hamstring) injury CJ Bacher suffered in Bloomington.  Bacher limped off the field in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Mike Kafka.

Best of luck to Tyrell and CJ as they begin their recuperation. 

Look South for Bowl [posted Nov. 15]

After the clock at Ann Arbor ticked toward zero, after the visitors had graciously taken a knee to end the game, after the handshakes and prayer circles, the Wildcat players raced toward the small visitors' section at Michigan Stadium, toward the Northwestern fans, parents, and the band, to sing the fight song.  Northwestern's players-- and fans-- had reason to celebrate: what the players accomplished against 3-8 Michigan ranks right up against anything that the 'Cats of old did in defeating the mighty Michigan teams of the nineties and of 2000.  The 2008 edition of the 'Cats is an abridged edition, but they still delivered a classic story by knocking off the Wolverines 21-14.

Let's stop again to reflect on the pages missing from this storied win.
  • Northwestern's star player, starting running back Tyrell Sutton
  • Second-string running back Omar Conteh
  • Key middle linebacker Malcolm Arrington
  • Season starting cornerback Justan Vaughn
Quarterback CJ Bacher returned to the lineup after recovering from his own injury, and was relieved early in the game by Mike Kafka, who-- after carrying the ball three times-- was knocked out of the game with a concussion.  Relying on Bacher and third-string runningback Stephen Simmons, the 'Cats soldiered forward, helped by typically solid defensive play by the 'Cats and two key special teams plays.

Although NU did suffer a blocked punt, the 'Cats also came up big on another punt that touched Wolverine Martavious Odoms.  Eric Peterman had a terrific heads-up play, corralling the live ball just before it could slip out of bounds.  Earlier in the game, Michigan attempted a short field goal to take a lead, but Corey Wootton stretched out for the critical block.

Wootton also managed a sack later in the game, and Jordan Mabin picked off the Wolverines in the end zone to snuff their fourth quarter comeback attempt.

However, it had been Northwestern that needed a comeback attempt to start the second half.  The 'Cats trailed Michigan 14 to 7 after a sloppy first half.  NU made several crucial adjustments to its offense at the half, and Bacher & Co. came out firing in the third quarter.  Bacher hit Ross lane on third down and 17 for a touchdown strike to tie the game.  After Michigan responded with a three-and-out, the 'Cats picked up a first down at midfield before Bacher connected with Eric Peterman, who split the Wolverine defense and hustled 53 yards for the winning score.

With the win, Northwestern is guaranteed to finish the Big Ten season with at least a .500 record and has accomplished its fourth eight-win (or better) season of the Expect Victory era.  And now it's on to the next chapter of the story, against the Illini, to find out if this battered, beleaguered and relentless Wildcat team can achieve what only four NU teams in the last 126 years have accomplished: nine wins in a season.

The Sweet Sioux Trophy: 1945 - 2008 [posted Nov. 21]

In an unfortunate move, the NCAA has directed the University of Illinois to remove "all Native American imagery from its athletic teams or lose the right to host postseason events."  According to the Chicago Tribune and other sources, that "imagery"  now includes the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy, the prize that goes to the winner of the Northwestern - Illinois football game.  And so, on Saturday, November 22, 2008 at Ryan Field, the grand tradition of Sweet Sioux will come to an end.

The Tribune quotes the Illini athletic department as stating, "We were directed by the board of trustees through the chancellor's office to retire the trophy.  We're gouing to be working with Northwestern over the coming months to establish a new series trophy."  The Tribune also quotes NU athletic director Jim Philips: "Out of tremendous respect for the Native American community as well as for Illinois and Northwestern, this was the right thing to do."

The Tribune reports that Illinois will bring the Tomahawk with them to the game on Saturday, and the trophy will be retired at Northwestern, no matter who wins the 2008 game.

The decision by the NCAA brings to a sad end a tradition that began in 1945.  Click this link and scroll to the 1945 entry to read about the origins of the Sweet Sioux trophy.

Other links:

First Nine-Win Season Since '96 [posted Nov. 23]

Photo from NUSports.com

When Northwestern and Illinois played at Ryan Field last Saturday, the recipient of the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy had been determined before the kickoff.  Because of the NCAA directive against Illinois and its use of Native American imagery, Northwestern would take the trophy, and Sweet Sioux would rest forever in Evanston.

Happily, the Wildcats chose to earn that honor Saturday evening by playing a game for the ages against the Illini, who were fighting for bowl eligibility one year after their Rose Bowl appearance.  Instead, Illinois will be the first Big Ten team in the age of the conference's multiple bowl tie-ins to go from the Rose Bowl to no bowl, and Northwestern claimed its ninth win of the year, the fifth time ever that NU has reached that level, and the first time since the 1996 championship team.

The 'Cats played a strong game at every position, including the ones for which NU has had to reach into its second and third strings due to injury.  Again, as at Michigan, the 'Cats had to pull out a game without its star running back or its backup running back.  Stephen Simmons, it turns out, did just fine, turning in a career performance and bounding in for a touchdown.  CJ Bacher passed for 230 yards and two touchdowns, including a breathtaking back of the endzone pass to Ross Lane and a beautiful play by Eric Peterman.  Peterman was a madman throughout the game-- just as he has been all season-- hauling in eight catches for 111 yards.  And the NU offensive line had a dominating game, grinding down and softening up Illinois's defensive front during the game and allowing no sacks against Bacher.

The Wildcat defense, however, went sack-happy against Juice Williams, pulling him down five times.  Kevin Mims notched two solo sacks, and had a piece of a third, while Prince Kwateng, Brad Phillips, Adam Hahn, and Corey Wootton all had at least a share of the sackattack that NU unfolded on Juice.  Phillips basically served as safety, ad hoc linebacker, judge, jury, executioner and gravedigger as he multitasked about the field, meting out justice.  It can safely be argued that no defensive unit in Northwestern's history has ever had as quick and dramatic a turnaround as the 'Cats have enjoyed this year.  Thank you, Mr. Hankwitz.

And thank you, Brendan Smith.  As usual, Smith excelled at safety; however, he threw in a stellar move on special teams this time for good measure, returning an Illini punt 51 yards in the fourth quarter by slipping through tackles and being a general badass.  With the lone exception of a fluky missed extra point, the special teams unit performed very well, with punter Stefan Demos again showing a knack for finding just the right spots to put the ball.

Though it wasn't against a national powerhouse or a 10-win team, NU's performance was against the defending Big Ten Rose Bowl representative and one of the best quarterbacks in the league.  The Wildcats' effort gave NU a storied ninth win, engraving the names of these players and coaches into the history and records of the team and ensuring a happy and warm end to the season.  For this reason, HailToPurple.com has added this game, as an honorable mention, to its list of the Greatest Games in NU History.

As the game expired, and before hundreds of students would rush the field to celebrate and sing with their fellow students in uniform, NU's captains doused Coach Fitzgerald with Gatorade.  It was just the second time an NU head coach had received a Gatorade bath: the only other time had been in the final seconds of the title-sealing 2000 victory over Illinois, which was one of Coach Walker's finest moments.  For Fitz, last Saturday certainly was one of his finest moments as well: a confirmation as a successful head coach of a solid program, one that has earned respect and national recognition.  And one that has, for the last time, earned an old metal hatchet framed with wood, memories and toil.

NU Cracks AP Poll,
Returns to BCS,
Increases Position with Coaches [posted Nov. 23]

For the first time this year, and the first time since 2005, the AP Poll has ranked Northwestern in the top 25.  NU appears this week at #24, with 145 points.  The other Big Ten teams ranked by the AP are Penn State at #6, Ohio State at #10, and Michigan State at #22.  Iowa is unranked.

Northwestern has returned to the BCS standings, also in the 24th spot.  The team also has returned to the Coaches Poll in the #20 spot, with 310 points, and above #21 Michigan State.  Iowa, again, is not ranked.

Click here for the full history of NU's all-time rankings in the AP Poll and BCS standings.

Bowl Situation Becoming Clear [posted Nov. 30]

With nine wins in its pocket and a winning record in the Big Ten, Northwestern is now not only guaranteed a Big Ten bowl, it is in the running for a January 1 spot.  Technically, NU is still eligible for the Capitol One Bowl; however, realistically NU has a shot at the Outback, Alamo, or Champs Sports. 

Penn State has secured the Rose Bowl.  Depending on how much love Ohio State gets from the BCS, the Big Ten could have two teams in the BCS.  The Oregon win vs. Oregon State has likely placed USC in the Rose Bowl (assuming USC beats UCLA next week), and it is now very unlikely that the Pac-10 will get another team into the BCS.

And that leaves a nice big gap in the BCS for... Boise State?  Doubtful, when the BCS can have the (financial) pull of the Buckeyes.  With Ohio State now one step closer to the BCS, let's look at where this would place the Big Ten teams:

Rose: Penn State
BCS At Large: Ohio State
Cap One: Michigan State
Outback: NU or Iowa
Alamo: NU or Iowa

Should OSU find itself shut out of the BCS, the Buckeyes will surely head to the Capitol One Bowl, with Michigan State likely taking the Outback.  NU and Iowa will fight it out for the Alamo or the Champs Sports.

Why are NU and Iowa in this deadlock?  Well, NU has the better record (nine wins to Iowa's eight) and NU did win the head-to-head versus Iowa (at Iowa, no less), but Iowa has the more impressive November, knocking off Penn State and absolutely destroying Minnesota.  Iowa reps will also point to a more attractive fan base than NU, but this argument simply does not hold: NU has traveled well to every bowl it has ever played.  It has been three years since NU's last bowl appearance, and the 'Cats' nationally-flung fan base is ready to show.  So, the arguments for and against Iowa and NU are about even; we shall see who gets picked before whom.  Still, let's be frank: even though NU does travel well to bowls, it is hard to overcome the reputation of being a small school amid a crowd of state schools.  It would hardly shock to see a bowl select Iowa for its RV crowd and overlook (to its detriment) the traveling power of NU alumni and the compelling media story that is unfolding with the Wildcats' season.

Who Might Be NU's Bowl Opponent?

NU might get tabbed for the Outback Bowl, which would pit the 'Cats against the third or fourth pick from the SEC.  A likely contender for the Outback is South Carolina.

If Northwestern heads back to the Alamo, the 'Cats will face the Big 12's fifth-picked team.  Right now, that could mean Oklahoma State or Missouri.  Kansas and Nebraska also have a shot at San Antonio, meaning we could actually see a rematch of the 2000 Alamo Bowl.

Should NU get the invite to the Champs Sports Bowl, it will line up against the fourth-picked ACC team.  Currently, Miami appears to be in that slot, and Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are also in the running.  An Academic Bowl featuring NU and Wake Forest would not only be an interesting story, it would give Coach Fitz a chance to face the team that ruined his return to the field in '96 after his season-ending 1995 injury.

The NU - Missouri Series [posted Dec. 7]

The Wildcats and the Tigers began their series back in 1895, but it has not been a frequent matchup.  The teams did meet twice under NU coach Dick Hanley,  they had a home-and-home in the mid-sixties, and NU traveled twice to Missouri in the mid-eighties.  NU and Missouri were tied 4-4 in the series.
  • 1895, road game played in St. Louis: MU 22, NU 18.  Led by new coach and former star Alvin Culver, halfback Albert Potter, and lineman Jesse Van Doozer, NU had a great team in 1895.  However, Missouri snapped a Purple six-game winning streak.
  • 1915 at home: NU 25, MU 6.  NU was only a year away from Paddy Driscoll's huge breakout year in 1916, but 1915 was a down year for the team.  Fortunately it was also a down year for Missouri.  The only wins for NU came from Lake Forest and this game against the Tigers, played at Northwestern Field.  The game matched NU head coach Fred Murphy with his former team: Murphy had coach at Missouri at the turn of the century.
  • 1927 at home: MU 34, NU 19.  On the heels of NU's '26 Big Ten title, the team was rebuilding under new head coach Dick Hanley.
  • 1932 at home: NU 27, MU 0.  The 1927 rebuild was followed by four straight winning seasons for NU, and two conference titles in '30 and '31.  By 1932 NU was again needing to reload.  However, it had enough left to shut out Missouri in the '32 season opener at Dyche Stadium.  The game was deadlocked and scoreless until the fourth quarter.
  • 1963 away: NU 23, MU 12.  Ara Parseghian's final season with NU began with this win at Missouri, beating a very strong Tiger team.  Until the teams meet in the 2008 Alamo Bowl, this game is the highlight of the series.
  • 1967 at home: MU 13, NU 6.  Under Alex Agase, NU began this season by knocking off Miami, the #1 team in the nation.  The 'Cats couldn't sustain the magic into the following week, however, and lost a close one to the Tigers, who were enjoying their 11th straight winning season...
  • 1985 away: NU 27, MU 23.  ...By '85, however, Missouri had fallen on hard times and was in the middle of a 13-year streak of losing seasons.  Under Dennis Green, NU had improved since its disastrous losing streak of '79-'81, but was still a long way from being competitive.  The 'Cats were able to snatch this rare road win.
  • 1987 away: MU 28, NU 3.  The 'Cats were mired in a two-win season when they last met Missouri.

Fighting 'Til the End,
[posted Dec. 30]

On a night draped with gritty performances, wild plays, a flicker of Highest Hopes and moments of outright anguish, Northwestern gave the Missouri Tigers all they could handle before falling in overtime in the 2008 Alamo Bowl.  The Wildcats turned in outstanding performances on both offense and defense, and they were boosted by astonishing coaching jobs by both Coach Fitzgerald and by Defensive Coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who had prepared the team beyond the expectations of most fans. 

However, the thrilling game that the 'Cats delivered was marred late in the fourth quarter when Wildcat MVP Corey Wootton, shaking off an uncalled hold, raced toward Mizzou quarterback Chase Daniel and came down awkwardly on his right leg, collapsing to the turf.  As of Tuesday morning, the extent of Wootton's injury was not known.  Wootton had been integral in NU's efforts to stop Daniel throughout the game, having intercepted Daniel in the first half and also notched the 'Cats' lone sack.

Joining Wootton in the pick club were Brad Phillips and Brian Peters, who each caught an interception.  Daniel, in addition to the three interceptions, was limited to two touchdowns and 200 yards.  His family, however, were the stars in San Antonio on Monday night: ESPN decided to focus on his parents and family in the stands for much of its coverage, rather than focusing on the ho-hum action on the field as it led to a wild, roiling finish in overtime. 

Despite CJ Bacher's family not getting so much as a mention during the Daniel Family Showcase, the Wildcat quarterback caught fire, throwing just one interception amidst three touchdowns (to the Wildcat Touchdown Trinity of Peterman, Ward, and Lane) and 304 yards.  Bacher's three TDs tie NU's bowl record for individual scoring (shared with Darnell Autry in the 1996 Rose Bowl) and they break NU's bowl record for TD passes (previously held by Brett Basanez in the 2005 Sun Bowl and Steve Schnur in the 1997 Citrus Bowl, who had each thrown two touchdowns).  The 46-yard TD strike to Ward also set a Wildcat bowl record for the longest touchdown pass.  Bacher was a leader on the field in San Antonio, and he nearly led his team to glory.

Northwestern had its hands around that glory for nearly the entire evening.  The team began with a sterling defensive effort, snuffing Missouri's opening drive with an interception near midfield.  This set up the Wildcat offense and the return of starting runningback Tyrell Sutton.  On the first snap, Sutton took the ball with his free right hand, cradling his hand with the cast that still envelops his recovering left wrist, and took off for seven yards.  Sutton would finish the game with 116 yards, more than double any other rusher in the game. 

The Peterman touchdown strike finished off NU's opening drive, and the 'Cats would keep a lead until one minute to go in the first half.  Content with a 10-10 tie, the 'Cats-- on their own 23 yard line and with all of their time outs-- burned out the clock.

NU would regain the lead on the very first drive in the second half, as Lane, Peterman and Ward all caught big passes to take the 'Cats across the field and to a 16-10 lead.  Unfortunately, Daniel followed this with his most impressive drive of the night, slicing through the 'Cats on a 12-play campaign that put the Tigers up by one.  Later, Bacher's one interception and a field goal by Mizzou put the momentum squarely with the Tigers. 

However, Northwestern had come to win, and the team would not let this glory slip through its fingers without clawing the hell out of it first.  The Wildcat defense stepped up again, intercepting Daniel and putting the offense in position for the Ross Lane TD that gave NU its final lead of the game, 23 to 20.

NU's lead held until less than three minutes to go in the game.  A Tiger 37-yard field goal sent the Alamo Bowl into a tie, and a 44-yard attempt with just three seconds to go would have won it for Mizzou, but the Tigers' terrifyingly accurate kicker suffered a rare miss to send the game into overtime, which sent Wildcat fans into hysterics.  For NU, 60 years of bowl futility were possibly going to close with glory in an overtime game, and NU was 8-1 in overtime games coming into the Alamo Bowl.  The 'Cats' only previous overtime loss: in Texas, at TCU. 

And, indeed, The Wildcats again fell in overtime in the Lone Star State, as Chase Daniel orchestrated a touchdown drive in the first overtime set.  NU found itself, after a recovered fumble on third down, looking at a fourth down and goal from the 31-yard line.  The Hail Mary, hanging in space for a flicker of time, carried six decades of hopes, hopes higher than any sane fan would have dreamt in the summer of 2008, hopes that woke up during that flicker of time and then began their slumber anew, as the ball hit the Alamo turf.