If 2008 proved to be the watershed year for Coach Fitzgerald's Wildcats, the
2009 season continued the team's ride on that wave of success, to the
surprise of many. Having lost Tyrell Sutton and C.J. Bacher, and
with Corey Wootton still recovering from the injury he sustained in the
2008 Alamo Bowl, there were some doubts heading into the season that NU
could sustain its level of achievement from its fourth-place conference
finish in '08.
The Wildcats' offense, led by senior quarterback Mike Kafka, would
eventually erase the doubts. NU scored 337 points during its
eight-win 2009 campaign, good enough for another fourth-place finish in
the conference, tied with Wisconsin. And NU's defense featured
dominant performances by Sherrick McManis and others.
The season had a shaky start. A win over FCS foe Towson was
followed by a very close, ugly win against Eastern Michigan, then an
unsettling loss to Syracuse. By midseason, NU was 4-3 and faced
Indiana for homecoming in a game that would bring the 'Cats one game
away from being bowl eligible for the third straight year.
Surprisingly, NU found itself staring at a possible 4-4 record when the
Hoosiers took a 25-point lead. Instead, Northwestern tore back to
win, notching the largest comeback in school history (and breaking the
21-point comeback record set against Minnesota in 2001 and also against
Minnesota in 2007).
Indiana was not the only landmark win for NU in 2009. On the
heels of the Halloween loss at Ryan Field against Penn State, the 'Cats
traveled to Iowa to battle the #4-ranked Hawkeyes. Kafka had been
injured during the Penn State game, and NU's defense was also riddled
with injury. NU, however, came away with one of the greatest wins
in its history, and the team proceeded to beat Illinois to take the
inaugural Land of Lincoln Trophy and win against a ranked Wisconsin
team in a thriller.
The climax of this great season was perhaps the wildest game NU has
ever played. The 2010 Outback Bowl has been branded a classic by
sports columnists across the country. NU, in a fantastic effort,
set an NCAA record for the number of offensive plays in a football game
(115, breaking the record set by Montana, when it used 112 plays vs.
Montana State in 1952) and also set a Division I record for offensive
plays by an individual in a game (Kafka's 98 plays, surpassing the 94
plays by Matt Vogler of TCU, vs. Houston in 1990).
Much, of course, was made of kicker Stefan Demos's terrible day in the
Outback Bowl. However, NU would have never made it to Tampa
work that Demos provided along the way, including the game-winning kick
against Eastern Michigan (in a game that would have likely sent the
'Cats into a doomed spiral had they lost...) and the game-winner
against Indiana (Demos was perfect against the Hoosiers, and his second
field goal sealed the epic comeback).
Northwestern found success on the field in '09, but few fans found
their seats to watch it: average home attendance dwindled to just
24,190, the lowest average home attendance since 1980 (for a historical
account of NU's home attendance, click here).
While the 'Cats managed to win eight games in 2009, the records showed an additional ten-win season added to NU football's records this year. During the course of the past several years, HailToPurple.com had found several sources confirming that Northwestern had won ten games in 1903. In
2009 NU changed the team's official record to show the ten wins
from some of the comments I posted on this site during the course of
2009 season. Please note that the comments posted below are only
ones written by me. As with last year, the bulk of articles on
in 2009 came from jhodges and the other contributors. For their
2009 commentary and analysis, please check out the
pages for jhodges, the Waterboy and the Lowes Line.
NU Welcomes Class of 2013 [posted Feb. 4, 2009]
On Wednesday Northwestern formally announced its Class of 2013 recruiting group, 18 verbal
commitments from players spanning nearly every position. The
current slate of recruits leans a little toward the defensive side of
the ball, with eight on offense and nine on defense; six are on the
lines. There are at least five linebackers in the group, with the
addition last week of Damien Proby.
For the first time in two years, NU has brought in a kicker. The
staff has again focused on Illinois and Ohio, with five recruits coming
from in-state, and four from Ohio.
Evan Watkins, from Carol Stream, is the lone quarterback recruit so
far, and ESPN has given him good marks for arm strength. Linemen,
however, are the highest-rated recruits so far in this class.
Offensive tackle Patrick Ward is a Rivals four-star recruit, and Davon
Custis is a highly-sought defensive end who committed to NU two weeks ago, and has been given four stars by Scout.
At the end of Signing Day, Rivals ranked NU's incoming class 58th in nation (down three from last week),
which is leagues better than Rivals' ranking of 73rd for NU last year,
and just below the 53rd spot Rivals gave the 'Cats in 2007.
Rivals rates the current Wildcat recruiting class at eighth in the
conference, above Indiana, Purdue and Iowa. Ohio State is the leading Big
Ten recruiting class for Rivals, at the #2 spot in the country.
Scout.com takes a slightly dimmer view of the 'Cats' new group, placing
them at 69th (unchanged from last week) in the nation, just ahead of
Iowa. Scout does list Custis as a four-star, but gives most of
NU's other commits lower ratings than Rivals.
Rivals and Scout, however, have both ranked NU lower in the Big Ten
than the Chicago Tribune (sixth) and recruiting analysit Tom Lemming
Congratulations and good luck to this promising group of soon-to-be
Graham-Grange Fire Bell Named a Sweet Sioux
Replacement Finalist [posted March 31]
University of Illinois and NU announced Tuesday that the two schools
will hold a vote during the month of April to determine the replacement
for the Sweet Sioux Trophy. Among the four finalists: the
Graham-Grange Fire Bell. Links below:
Spring Game 2009 Provides Encouraging Glimpses
[posted April 25]
between bouts of rain and wind, Northwestern managed to hold its 2009
spring game before a nice-sized crowd at Ryan Field. The
game, briefly delayed by the weather system that tore through the
Chicago area, showcased the next wave of offensive skill talent and
also showed that the defense has the depth to compete again this fall.
Although the defense has been hampered by injuries for much of the
spring session, and some if its starters did not play last Saturday,
the defense still looked solid, with the secondary flying to the ball
and the backup defensive line holding their own.
After the game, Coach Fitzgerald made it clear that senior quarterback
Mike Kafka is the Wildcats' starter. Kafka did look impressive,
throwing well into a brutal wind and running with the same speed that
fans saw last year against Minnesota. Backup QB Dan Persa also
did a nice job, and also looked good running with the ball. NU's
running back crew also stepped up: Jeravin Matthews looked like a
slippery bullet, slashing across the field for a great touchdown
run. Alex Daniel and Stephen Simmons also had a great
practice. All three rushed for at least 6 yards per carry.
Special teams also looked good, with punter / kicker Stefan Demos
nailing five field goals.
It's always difficult, as a casual fan, to judge a team based on a
spring game, and even more so this year because of the players sitting
out on defense. However, the team show great discipline and
spirit, and the practice left most with a very positive outlook.
Below is a
linked file to some clips from the festivities from Wildcat Alley and
the Spring Game.
NU and Illinois to Play for Land of Lincoln [posted April 26]
the spring game progressed at Ryan Field, Northwestern and the
University of Illinois revealed that they will compete this fall for
the Land of Lincoln Trophy. The new trophy is the result of a
search conducted by the two schools to find a replacement for the Sweet
Sioux, retired after last year's game.
According to the joint press release, the two schools decided that Land
of Lincoln "would best represent all citizens of the state, as the two
schools are the only Big Ten institutions located in the state of
Illinois. The new trophy also coincides with the celebration of Abraham
Lincoln's 200th birthday."
The news release does
not give any details about the trophy itself, only that NU and Illinois
are "working together to create the new trophy." The new rivalry
was one of four finalists in an online poll that the two schools conduced
throughout April. According to the winning entry, the Land of
Lincoln Trophy will be "A replica of Lincoln's stove pipe hat mounted
on a piece of White Oak (Illinois' state tree)." However, the
press release does not mention or confirm that the trophy will take the
form described by the candidate poll.
. . . The Land of Lincoln Trophy is going to provide NU
with a great opportunity to increase its identity with the state, which
has been challenging for NU. And it will provide a renewed
interest in the series and good national publicity for the game this
fall. It will also provide a nice tie-in for the game with the
other national events celebrating Lincoln's birth
Media 2009 Previews and Predictions for the 'Cats
[posted and updated throughout the summer]
The annual college football magazines have appeared at the
offering their picks and predictions. The slate of previews
begins with the annual magazines from Athlon and Lindy's and concludes
the Big Ten's August media event, when the conference announces its
In part due to the economic crisis, and partially due to the shift from
print to online media, there are fewer preview magazines for college
football than there have been in years. Athlon and Lindy's are
still around to inaugurate the preview season, and Phil Steele's
publication remains the most anticipated, but others have closed shop
or moved entirely to the Internet.
One upcoming, can't-miss preview will come not in print or on the Web:
the Big Ten Network's extended preview of NU will air August 20.
Typically, the print prognosticators do not favor NU. Of course,
previews are written by magazines trying to sell copies, and favoring
biggest teams (that is to say, the teams with the biggest followings)
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
Ten favorite in many of the preseason predictions.
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 previewer 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.
As for last year's previews and predictions, the most accurate was fromMel 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 last year for the dog pick. The worst predictions
were from Lindy's and USA Today.
As has been the case since summer 2000, HailToPurple.com is posting a recap of what the larger 'Net and print
predicted so far for NU.
Let's start with the big one: Phil Steele,
who has had a nice run with predicting how the 'Cats will fare.
Phil isn't as high on NU this year, putting it in ninth place in the
conference, tied with Purdue and ahead of Indiana. Steele puts
Penn State at the top of the conference, with Ohio State and Illinois
tied for second. In his "Power Poll," Steele ranks NU 70th (the
57 spot goes to Missouri). Steele notes that NU has lost a lot of
seniors, but that "they had 37 starts lost last year to injuries (16th
most in the nation). While NU will not improve their record for
the first time in Fitzgerald's tenure. . . the 'Cats should be bowl
eligible for the seventh time in the last eight years." Steele
later predicts that NU will play in the Motor City Bowl against Central
Michigan. Steele does list Corey Wootton the eighth best
defensive end in the country.
Last year Lindy's
tabbed the 'Cats for last in the conference. This year Lindy's
predicts NU will finish eighth, ahead of MinnyIndyPurdue. Lindy's
also puts NU over the Heinz Line, at 51st. The magazine makes a
big deal of NU's supposed light 2009 schedule, but does mention that NU
will carry enough Big Ten wins to travel to a bowl.
placed NU at 53rd in the nation last year; this year the magazine is
unusually optimistic about the Wildcats, propelling them to 39th place
nationally, the highest 2009 projection for NU so far. Athlon
predicts a sixth place conference finish, and ranks Wootton fourth
nationally in his position.
This year The Sporting News
does not have full national rankings, just the top 25 preseason (which
does not include NU). TSN projects NU at ninth in the Big Ten,
ahead of the Indiana wonder twins. TSN does call Wootton the best
defensive end in the conference.
Turning to cyberspace, Rivals
puts NU just under the Heinz Line, at 60th. That's good for a
ninth spot in the conference, ahead of the usual suspects. Rivals
is one of the few media sources so far to call out Mike Kafka, tabbing
him with the "keep an eye on" title. "He has shown he's equipped
to make plays with his feet, setting a Big Ten quarterback record for
rushing yards in a game (217) in a wild victory at Minnesota last fall."
saves its 57th spot this year for... Michigan. NU it puts in
60th, at the ninth slot in the Big Ten. CFN isn't too high on the
conference this year, ranking only two teams in the top 25, and none in
the top ten (Penn State is at #12, just ahead of Ohio State). CFN
calls out NU's loss of Bacher and Sutton, and-- very interestingly--
mentions Andrew Brewer as the "key player to a successful
season." Give CFN credit for one thing: they have raised the bar
for NU. They write that the season will be a success if "the
Wildcats win nine games again... and a bowl." CFN also calls out
NU as the Big Ten team that will surprise: "The defense will be up to
Pat Fitzgerald's high standards, the offensive line should be among the
Big Ten's best, and the backfield will crank out rushing yards in
chunks [making CFN one of the few sources to praise the potential of
NU's rushing game]." CFN predicts 7-5 in the regular season.
Andy Gamm's thefinalscore.net typically
predicts NU in ninth place in the conference, and this year he puts NU
in... ninth place, ahead of the Hoilers (or is that the
Boosiers?). By the way, lets review The Final Score's most recent
predictions for NU: 2003: 11th (real finish: 7th); 2004: 9th
(real: 4th); 2005: 7th (3rd); 2006: 9th (8th); 2007: 9th (7th); 2008:
Webmaster James Howellcalculates
weekly "Power Rankings" during the season. His 2009
preseason power ratings have NU in 58th place (he give #57 to hated
Notre Dame). This is a considerable step above last year's 75th
Dennis Dodd at CBS Sports ranks NU a little lower, at 67th, just below Minnesota.
Adam Rittenberg at ESPN's Big Ten blog
ranks NU's secondary second in the Big Ten and its offensive line
fourth in the conference, and he calls Al Netter and Ben Burkett All-
Big Ten candidates. Rittenberg predicts between six and nine wins
for the '09 'Cats and a second consecutive bowl season.
Other writers at ESPN,
however, aren't so optimistic. Mark Schlabach calls NU one of the
teams most likely to "freefall" vs. last year, and predicts no bowl
game for the 'Cats. Bruce Feldman's prediction isn't much
rosier: he puts NU in the Motor City / Pizza Pizza Bowl.
The media reps voted in late July, and this year's Big Ten media
poll put Ohio State in the number one spot and the conference's
official frontrunner, followed by Penn State and Michigan State.
which was high on NU last year, is optimistic about them again this
year, placing NU sixth in the Big Ten, just behind Illinois, and above
Wisconsin. It ranks the 'Cats 42nd overall, just ahead of
Clemson. SI predicts that the 'Cats will sweep the
non-conference before going 4-4 in the Big Ten. However, SI only
predicts the Motor City Bowl for NU, apparently forseeing another team
or two stepping over the 'Cats in the bowl pecking.
We should also note that the
USA Today Coaches Poll has released its preseason rankings. NU,
though unranked, did pick up five points in the poll. The 'Cats got one vote in the preseason AP Poll.
note: Each year's Season Review Page includes the media's preseason
predictions. Which was the media source with the most accurate
prediction for 2009? The winners this year are Athlon and Sports Illustrated.
For the second straight year SI did a good job predicting the 'Cats'
performance, and both SI and Athlon picked NU 6th in the Big Ten and
bowl-bound. NU, of course, finished fourth.
And who earned this year's dog pick? Several sources picked NU for ninth in the Big Ten, but The Sporting News and Phil Steele
(yes, Steele) earn bottom honors for '09. The Sporting News can
always be counted on for a bad pick. Steele also grabs the bottom
spot for his double-whammy picking NU 9th and Illinois 2nd.
NU Throttles Towson [posted Sept. 5]
cruised past Towson as it opened its 2009 campaign at Ryan Field,
pasting the Tigers 47 to 14. The game provided a tune up more
than it did a challenge for the 'Cats, and Coach Fitzgerald used the
scrimmage to rotate his quarterbacks, runningbacks and other players
freely. Even with limited snaps, Mike Kafka passed for 192
yards. Freshman RB Arby Fields notched two of the Wildcats' six
touchdowns. . .
Trib Article Featuring Schapiro [posted Oct. 8]
. . . Teddy Greenstein gives us this outstanding article
about NU's new president, Morton Schapiro, and his dedication to
Wildcat sports. Anyone who knows the history of NU's football
program is aware of just how important support of the team from the
president on down is for its success, and how the lack of support at
the top can destroy it (I had outlined the chilling account of the
latter example in my book).
heartening to hear a president who is a true leader in the academic
world say "I'd like to go back to the Rose Bowl, take another shot at
SC," as opposed to "I think having a bad football team can help
academic standards" (actual quote from a previous president whose name
began with "S" and ended with "trotz"). . .
NU prepares its usual road game homecoming float,
this time for Michigan State's festivities...
NU's Halloween History [posted Oct. 29]
NU fans have seen great things happen on Halloween, just not recently.
This will be the 16th Halloween game in NU's history. The 'Cats are 6-8 (with one tie)
so far on October 31, but haven't had much luck of late: they have a
six-game losing streak dating to 1964.
NU played its first Halloween game in 1891 in Milwaukee, of all places,
against the Badgers. The team sported new purple and gold
stocking caps and new uniforms. NU Player Ransom Kinnicott filled
in as coach for the missing Knowleton Ames. Kinnicott led the
Purple to a scoreless tie.
The second Halloween game was on Thursday afternoon, October 31,
1895 at Sheppard Field against Rush Medical - Lake Forest (Rush-Lake
Forest fielded a varsity team in the mid 1890s and also played
Michigan). Alvin Culver's team took apart the pre-docs, 24-0.
The third Halloween game was a big one. NU played at Illinois in 1903
and edged the Illini, 12-11. This close win gave the Purple its first
The fourth NU Halloween game was the very last game ever played at old
Northwestern Field, in 1925. The 'Cats beat Indiana 17-14. Crews began
dismantling the wooden stands soon after, and NU played its final home
game of 1925 at Soldier Field (the now famous win over Michigan).
Halloween game number five came in the middle of NU's 1931 Big Ten
title run, and the victim was Illinois, which NU spanked 32-6.
The sixth Halloween game was the biggest of all, even bigger than
Purplepalooza 2009 would be if NU beats Penn State. On October 31,
1936, on NU's Homecoming, with a nearly-national audience listening on
radio, NU defeated Minnesota 6-0. The win shattered Minny's 28-game
undefeated streak, gave NU the unshared Big Ten crown, and gave the
'Cats a claim for a national title (which Minny would go on to get
anyway, at least as far as the A.P. was concerned).
The Gophers got revenge, handing NU its first Halloween loss in 1942.
Since then, a black cat has crossed the Wildcats' path more often than
not. NU's last Halloween game came during the dreadful 1998 season,
against Michigan State. The Spartans beat NU 29 to 5, a spooky football score, indeed.
Steve Reid, 1914-2009 [posted Nov. 2]
. . NU's 1936 captain and MVP has died. Steve Reid was the team
physician for the Wildcats for decades, beginning in 1950.
Reid died October 31. He was 94.
In addition to captaining one of NU's greatest teams, Reid was an
All-American guard and a member of the College Football Hall of
Fame. He represented NU in the old East-West Shrine Game.
Reid was a Chicago native (Leo HS). According to his College Hall of
Fame bio, "During World War II he served as a Major in the U.S. Army
Medical Corps and was awarded the Presidential Citation with three
The '36 squad's greatest game, and Reid's greatest triumph as a player,
came, of course, on Halloween, in the famous game against the Gophers,
which was described in the coverage leading to this year's Halloween
game against Penn State.
[posted Nov. 7]
'Cats Fell #4 Iowa, 17-10 [posted Nov. 7]
What is Wildcat Football if not totally the most unpredictable and entertaining ticket in college football?
Just when you think that you, as a fan, have seen it all: Northwestern,
on the ropes, riddled with injuries and watching a once-promising
season trickle into mediocrity, staged its biggest, wildest win in at
least five years by taking down undefeated, #4 Iowa in the house that
Kinnick built but the Wildcats own.
win was by far the most important of Pat Fitzgerald's tenure as head
coach, it launched the Wildcats into surprising bowl eligibility,
and it shattered Iowa's 13-game winning streak. The Hawkeyes, who
came into the game with nine wins and no losses, had not been defeated
at Kinnick Stadium since NU and C.J. Bachér beat them last
year. Iowa was the fourth-ranked BCS team, which makes them the
highest-ranked team to fall to the 'Cats since the Miami Hurricanes
lost at Dyche Stadium in the 1967 opener. Miami was the #1 team
in the UPI poll. On the road, NU last beat a #4 team at the Rose
Bowl, when they downed #4 Cal in 1949. NU has never before beaten a #4 or better team in the opposing team's stadium.
The loss comes just a week after Iowa's football team made the cover of
Sports Illustrated with the title "Still Perfect," adding to the S.I.
On offense, Mike Kafka started the game with a sore hamstring, but was
quickly replaced with Dan Persa. When Persa injured his hand in
the second half, Kafka was forced to return, and helped lead NU to the
win. In addition to one touchdown pass, Persa racked up an
impressive 67 yards on the ground. On defense, Corey Wootton
pulled off the most significant play of the game by sacking Ricky
Stanzi in the end zone, forcing a fumble recovered for a touchdown, and
taking Stanzi out of the game. Stanzi suffered an ankle injury,
and his status for Iowa's upcoming game with Ohio State is not known.
The game began, however, in a relatively unsurprising way. On
Iowa's first drive, facing third and seven from his own 26, Stanzi
fired a pass to Marvin McNutt for a 74-yard touchdown (even if he
hadn't, I'd have still found a way to mention Marvin McNutt, because,
well, I just like typing Marvin McNutt).
The 'Cats responded... with a three and out. The NU defense
continued to have problems on Iowa's second drive, giving up a 30-yard
pass and an 11-yard rush. However, the Wildcat D prevented Iowa
from finding the red zone a second straight time, and Iowa settled for a
field goal and a ten-point lead.
Iowa is typically overjoyed to hold a ten-point lead in a first
quarter, and indeed they were: the Hawkeyes had proved throughout the
season to be a fourth quarter
team. No fear, Iowa fans: the Hawkeyes would pull out their Q4
pixie dust (Mr. Ferentz's own words, by the way, from a week or so
back...) and make it so. Right?
With the Wildcat defense toughening up and the NU offense temporarily
stalled, the teams swapped punts and settled into field position.
The field battle was helped when Jordan Mabin snagged a Stanzi pass in
the second quarter. Iowa would ultimately suffer four turnovers
in the game, which drained what little pixie dust that they might have
With field position favoring the 'Cats, Iowa began a drive at their own
six yard line. On second down, Stanzi dropped back to pass from
his end zone, and Wootton took him down with a clean, hard hit.
The resulting touchdown put NU within three and changed the game's
momentum for good.
The momentum continued to roll NU's way on the succeeding drive.
Quentin Davie picked off Hawkeye backup QB James Vandenberg to set up
the eventual TD pass from Dan Persa to Drake Dunsmore.
Marvin McNutt! NU led the #4 team in the nation, 14 to 10.
Of course, Iowa could make the necessary halftime adjustments.
Right? Not when they're playing the unpredictable. Not when
they're playing the entertaining.
And from here on out, the game-- and NU-- was exactly that. Iowa
had to rely on its backup quarterback. NU had to rely on...
Persa? No, Persa left with a hand injury. Kafka?
"Atlas was permitted the opinion that he was at liberty, if he wished, to drop the Earth and creep away; but this opinion was all that he was permitted."
No, even with a sore hammy, Kafka could not drop the Earth. He
helped to set up field position in the fourth quarter (with help from
Mr. Brewer) for a Stefan Demos 47-yard field goal. Now sporting a
seven-point lead, NU could withstand a final assault from the pixie
Right! After some savvy clock management and several great stands
by the Wildcat defense, Northwestern held on and accomplished the
magnificent. Congratulations to the team and to the coaches for a
job accomplished in spite of a lot of setbacks. Thanks for
providing the unpredictable, and the entertaining.
Putting the Iowa Win in Historical Context:
NU's Wins Over Top-Ten Teams [posted Nov. 8]
following is a list of all of the times Northwestern has defeated a
top-ten ranked program. Note that, with a few exceptions, these
rankings are based on the Associated Press poll, which began in
There are some wins before 1936 that should be mentioned. Even
though there were no rankings, it is likely that the following teams
would have been ranked in the national top ten when they fell to NU:
22, Chicago 6. Home Game. Chicago was 6-0 coming into the
game, and would likely have bucked east-coast bias at the time for a
46, Chicago 6. Road Game. This was a BIG one. Chicago
was 12-0 coming into the game, and had outscored its opponents 325 to nothing up to hitting the Purple buzzsaw. Chicago would have been likely ranked either 1 or 2 coming into the game.
21, Michigan 12. Home Game. Michigan had scorched its first
eight opponents, but had suffered its first loss, to Penn, just a week
before losing to NU. It is possible that the Wolverines would
still have been ranked in a top ten at the time.
3, Michigan 2. Home Game (played at Soldier Field). Another
big one. Michigan was undefeated and unscored upon, having won
five games by a total of 180 to 0. Michigan would have been
ranked number one, without a doubt.
19, Ohio State 13. Road Game. Ohio State was highly
regarded coming into the season and was 2-0 coming into the game.
It is likely that OSU would have cracked a top ten list.
1930: NU 19, Ohio State 2. Home Game. Same story as 1927-- OSU was 2-0 coming in, and very highly regarded.
14, Tulane 0. Home Game. Tulane was 1-0 coming into Dyche
Stadium and had not lost a game since early 1928-- 15 straight
games! Tulane would have been in the top five.
14, Notre Dame 7. Road Game. Notre Dame would almost
certainly have been a number one team if the polls had started in '35,
rather than '36. The Irish were 6-0 and had just knocked off Ohio
State in the original "Game of the Century."
...And here are the NU wins against top ten teams since the AP poll's debut:
6-0 over #1 Minnesota. Home Game. The AP Poll had begun
just two weeks before, and Minny was ranked #1 each week. Until
NU upended them at Dyche Stadium. The only time NU has defeated
an AP #1 team. NU briefly took the #1 crown, until Minny
1938: NU 6-3 over #2 Minnesota. Home Game.
1942: NU 3-0 over #7 Texas. Home Game. NU's only win in '42, but it was a huge one.
1945: NU 26-14 over #4 Purdue. Home Game.
1948: NU 19-16 over #8 Minnesota. Home Game.
1948: NU 20-14 over #4 Cal. 1949 Rose Bowl. Highest ranked opponent NU had beaten away from Evanston, until 2009.
1949: NU 21-20 over #7 Michigan. Home Game.
1950: NU 14-7 over #6 Illinois. Home Game.
1958: NU 29-28 over #10 Washington State. Home Game
45-13 over #2 Oklahoma. Home Game. Probably the most famous
game involving NU knocking off a top four team. Parseghian's
1959: NU 14-10 over #5 Iowa. Road Game. Just a week after the win over Oklahoma, NU stormed into Iowa and did this.
1961: NU 12-10 over #8 Notre Dame. Road Game. The third of four straight wins vs. the Irish.
1962: NU 18-14 over #6 Ohio State. Road Game.
1967: NU 12-7 over UPI #1 Miami. Home Game. Miami was #8 in the AP.
1995: NU 17-15 over #9 Notre Dame. Road Game.
1995: NU 19-13 over #7 Michigan. Road Game.
1996: NU 17-16 over #6 Michigan. Home Game.
2000: NU 47-44 over #7 Wisconsin. Road Game.
2004: NU 33-27 over #7 Ohio State. Home Game.
2009: NU 17-10 over BCS #4 Iowa. Road Game. Iowa was #8 in the AP.
Iowa Win: Flush It [posted Nov. 9]
. . . This
is not the week to celebrate the win over Iowa. This is the week to prepare for
the game of the year: NU vs. Illinois-- the Land of Lincoln debut. The Wildcats
are trying to secure a bowl game by beating a red-hot and very dangerous Illini
team that has just taken down two solid Big Ten teams and is looking forward to
slapping down its third straight.
this week, HailToPurple.com considers NU's record for the year 0-0. Everyone needs to focus on the one game
that matters: ILLINOIS.
'Cats Head to Champaign with Much on the Line [posted Nov. 9]
NU fans are still giddy from the intoxicating fumes of wild, slapdash victory over a hated rival-- and the 'Cats didn't even play
Notre Dame. Wait, I'm talking about Iowa. And so is
everyone. But, lurking in the navy and burnt orange shadows lie a
pack of jackals, ready to tear into our 'Cats. And no one seems
to be concerned with them.
Well, they should be the source of a lot of
concern. The Illini, who started the season expecting a treasure
trove of glory and instead got Al Capone's vault, have quietly gotten
as good as they had been advertised in the preseason. Two weeks
ago Illinois hosted Michigan and tallied its first win
over the Wolverines in Memorial Stadium in a generation. Sure, Michigan is a
struggling team right now, but Illinois simply outgunned Big Blue,
piling up 31 unanswered points in the second half. Mikel LeShoure
and Jason Ford both had explosion play runs that padded the 278 rushing
yards put up by the Illini. The much-criticized Juice "Juice"
Williams threw for 123 yards and a touchdown.
And last week Illinois succeeded in doing something the 2009 Wildcats
did not: it beat Minnesota. Despite 22 fourth quarter points by
the Gophers, Illinois dominated for a second straight
week. Williams suffered an injury, but no matter: Jacob "Jacob"
Charest proceeded to throw for 185 yards and a touchdown. No
matter which QB is in the game this Saturday, NU's injury-shredded
secondary will be tested roughly.
If Northwestern is to stand a chance on Saturday, it needs to treat
this game as it treated the game with Iowa: NU needs to come in with an
underdog vibe. Because, you know what? The 'Cats are
underdogs-- the Illini are a five-point favorite! That's
right. Knocking off Iowa might mean something to 'Cat fans, but
to the rest of the audience, Illinois is poised to pounce, it's
motivated (just recall last year's game to get a feel for Illinois'
motivation...), and it's ready. Is Northwestern?
This Saturday NU and Illinois will unveil the Land of Lincoln Trophy, the newest piece of hardware in the Wildcat - Illini trophy case.
The LOL Trophy has not yet been publicly unveiled, but NU has announced
that the new trophy was designed by political cartoonist Dick Locher.
The experts think that Illinois will have the last laugh. They
thought that with the Hawkeyes, too. It's totally up to you,
NU. There's a lot to gain. But it starts with maintaining
focus this week on the team that is lurking, hungry, and waiting.
Grab Your Hat: We're Going to a Bowl! [posted Nov. 14]
held on to its "hat," hanging on to a fourth quarter lead to defeat
Illinois 21 to 16 in Champaign. In doing so, the Wildcats secured
the new Land of Lincoln Trophy, beat the Illini for the sixth time in
the last seven years, denied the Illini a bowl for the second straight
year, secured a bowl for themselves for the second straight year (for
only the second time in NU history), and have guaranteed the best
three-year run for the program since 1929-1931 (in terms of sustained success, and since 1995-1997 in terms of number of wins).
The 'Cats and the Illini had a sluggish first half, but the Wildcats
exploded in the third and into the fourth to take a 21 to 3
lead. However, the 'Cats became too conservative, missed field
goals began to take a toll, and the Illini woke up and threatened in
the game's final minutes. A series of defensive stands and a game
winning (and very controversial) interception sealed the deal for NU.
The first quarter was a string of punts and missed field goals for both
teams. The Illini broke the deadlock at the start of the second
quarter when an 11-play drive netted a 30-yard field goal. Mikel
Leshoure led the drive for Illinois with a series of spectacular
runs. Leshoure would total 76 rushing yards for the day, leading
a host of Illini rushers.
The teams returned to their stalemate for much of the rest of the
second quarter, until Nate Williams snagged a Charest pass on the very
next play after a Wildcat turnover on downs. Kafka, allowed to
return immediately to the field, threw first-down strikes to Jacob
Schmidt and Drake Dunsmore, and then unleashed a cruise missile to Zeke
Markshausen for a 28-yard TD.
After again swapping punts to begin the second half, Illinois pinned NU to its own one inch
line. However, the 'Cats began to drive again, thanks to Scott
Concannon's 13-yard rush and a pair of huge catches by Andrew
Brewer. Nearing the Illini red zone, Mike Kafka tossed another
grenade to Markshausen to give NU the first and goal, which Kafka
eventually pounded for another score, a score that concluded a 99+ yard
drive. Kafka eventually tallied 305 passing yards in the game,
announcing his full return to form. For his part, Markshausen had
104 yards for the day.
On the ensuing drive, Leshoure was unable to reassert his dominance,
and Marshall Thomas dropped him for a critical one-yard loss at
midfield, setting up long yardage which the Pumpkinheads failed to
By then, the Wildcat offense braintrust was thinking Arby's®.
Arby Fields led the next drive, pounding the Illini with runs of 12 and
5 yards. A well-timed Illinois late hit on Kafka kept the drive
going, and NU was poised to strike as the third quarter closed.
Kafka opened the fourth quarter with a 19-yard pass to Jeremy Ebert,
and Mr. Fields toughed it out to reach the goal and give NU its
seemingly insurmountable 21 to 3 lead. However, Illinois revived
itself on the next drive, tore down the field and scored, but the NU D
held to deny an Illini two-point conversion.
On the ensuing drive, NU was in a position potentially to put its foot
on Illinois' throat, having the ball on the Illini 14 yard-line with a
fourth down and one yard. Rather than taking the aggressive
position and going for it, NU instead chose to kick, and Stefan Demos
uncharacteristically missed his third field goal of the game. The
Illini, with a renewed life and momentum, then drove 80 yards and
struck to narrow NU's lead to 21-16. NU, continuing to play
conservatively, tried to burn time off the clock with its next drive,
and ate nearly three minutes before punting again.
The Illini, now in a position to launch a game-winning drive, stalled
out in the face of renewed Wildcat defensive resistance. On
fourth down and one from their own 30 yard line, the Illini's last gasp
appeared headed to a first down reception. Instead, as the Illini
receiver went down on his back and tried to get possession, Sherrick
McManis tore the ball from him and made the most improbable, wild
interception of his career. The pick sealed the win for NU and
with it the bronze hat of intrastate glory.
A Sea Change West of Lake Michigan [posted Dec. 6]
the first time since the January 1, 1997 Citrus Bowl, the Northwestern
Wildcats are returning to the state of Florida for a football
game, and in a stunning development, they are returning on January 1.
How stunning is it that the Outback Bowl selected 8-4 Northwestern over
9-3 Wisconsin? It should not be: NU had the head-to-head win over
the Badgers, the 'Cats had reeled off three impressive wins to finish
the year as a powerful and impressive representative of the conference,
and NU fans-- long parched for a cool drink of the Florida postseason
juice-- are ready to descend on the Sunshine State with abandon.
And yet, this was a stunner. As CollegeFootballNews.com derided NU: "it's still Northwestern."
Assuming Northwestern fans represent in Tampa and the Wildcats bring
the game of which they are fully capable, we might years from now look
back at December 6, 2009 with the kind of awe we as fans feel when we
look back at September 2, 1995. That bright fall day was the
moment when faith in NU-- belief without evidence-- was illuminated,
and Northwestern had its evidence: NU could beat a top-ten team and
anything was possible on the field for this team. December 6,
2009 might just be remembered as the day when Northwestern Football
truly came into its own off
the field. It's not still Northwestern. It is the New
Northwestern, with 15 years of excellence under its belt and a rising,
powerful program. Work begun by Arnold Weber, and tended by Henry
Bienen, Morton Schapiro, Mark Murphy, Jim Phillips, Gary Barnett, Randy
Walker, Pat Fitzgerald, and a legion of talented and overachieving
players is now maturing. They tended a fragile crop, and now the
harvest is come.
The challenge and risk of that harvest is great. This is a big
moment for the program, and a lot comes with that. Fail, and the
failure is magnified. Succeed, and the potential is tremendous.
This is a shift. Yesterday the Big Ten witnessed a sea change in
the order of the conference. That the shift came from Central
Street should not be stunning, and that is the very first sign of the
significance of what has happened. The New Northwestern has
NU Sells Out Ticket Allotment [posted Dec. 30]
. . . President Schapiro tonight announced that NU has sold its Outback Bowl
ticket allotment. Selling all 11,000 of its allotted tickets,
given the economy, is a significant achievement that not all Big Ten
teams were able to accomplish this season. This is a major step
forward for the program. . .
It's Time [posted Dec. 31]
Northwestern's faithful have converged on Tampa, and the area outside
Raymond James Stadium is bustling, loud and glittering with amethyst
But on Central Street it's quiet near the old stone stadium. Only
memories haunt Dyche Stadium, ghosts who, though silent, turn their
gaze southward and restively wait for the final chapter of their
story. These memories of 61 seasons of unfinished business are at
the edge of their tale: the Wildcats have in their grasp a New Years
Day bowl game and the ability to finish their work and write this
What will they write? The memories wait.
When Wildcat greats like Mike Adamle, Andy and Jack Cvercko, Joe
Collier, James Andreotti, Tom Myers, Larry Onesti, and Ron Burton--
All-Americans all-- fought for victory, they could only fight for a
place in the Rose Bowl, and they all came up just short of that last
chapter. They scribed their deeds into the Dyche Stadium grass,
gave NU some of its greatest games, and achieved top-ten rankings
(during several seasons even grabbing the #1 and #2 spots in the
nation), but they couldn't reach the final objective, the goal
singularly achieved by Voigt's band and no one else.
The teams of the 1970s and '80s had more opportunities, more possible
bowls, but less hope. Hamstrung with a lack of school support,
little depth, and a disparity of resources between themselves and their
Big Ten colleagues, Wildcat warriors like Eric Hutchinson, Chris
Hinton, Greg Boykin, and Chuck Kern fought their best, but fell with
Every NU fan knows the recent deeds of the Wildcats, the work by
players like Coach Fitzgerald, Steve Schnur, Darnell Autry, Brian
Musso, Barry Gardner, Damien Anderson, Zak Kustok, Noah Herron, Jason
Wright, and Brett Basanez. For the first time in two generations,
Northwestern was making it to bowl games. Yet the last page of
the story stayed unwritten, the business unfinished, the memories
stilled and lurking.
The Northwestern program has transformed in this generation. It's
capable, it has the talent and the will. The Wildcat Bowl
Drought, rest assured, will end and it will end soon.
So why not now?
It's up to this current pack of 'Cats, these Happy Few, to make that
so, to write in sweat and power the last words of the Northwestern
Story, to finish this business, and to quench the old memories and
create new ones. Many who dreamt even recently of this day sadly won't be there
to see it, but their memories inspire us and will be with the Purple in
History waits for John Evans' Band of Brothers to complete the work. It is time.
[posted January 1, 2010]
The 2010 Outback Bowl:
'Cats Come Up Short
OT Loss Ends Valiant, Bizarre Comeback
[posted Jan. 1]
Wildcats added to their legacy of wild, "Cardiac 'Cat" thrillers in the
very first college football game of the new decade.
Unfortunately, they also added to their legacy of bowl game heartbreak,
losing in overtime a strange, jaw-dropping comeback effort that
featured fantastic performances by many of NU's players.
Northwestern, down 14 points twice to favored Auburn-- and several
times facing an apparently imminent three-touchdown deficit-- tore back
into this game with a blistering third quarter performance. But a
wild and bizarre string of plays in overtime ultimately sealed a win
for Auburn and left NU again with a bowl loss.
Mike Kafka, in his second to last game wearing the Northwestern helmet
(he will make an encore in the Shrine Bowl later this month), was a
study in contrast. Kafka suffered through five interceptions
(including two in the endzone and a couple of deflected, fluky picks),
but he also kept his cool and torched Auburn for 532 passing yards, not
only an NU bowl record, but an overall school record as well. He
set other NU bowl records, including his five touchdowns (matching
Peyton Manning's performance against NU in the '97 Citrus Bowl).
Kafka played Northwestern Football as it is defined: blasting through
tough odds and never giving up. Kafka's fourth quarter
performance alone should get him a place among NU's immortal greats.
The game, however, began poorly for the 'Cats. Kafka's second
pass of the game was tipped straight up and intercepted, eventually
leading to a Tiger touchdown. NU's second drive went 17 plays and
chewed nearly eight minutes before Kafka suffered an endzone
interception that Auburn's McFadden goose-stepped 100 yards for the
score. McFadden's unsportsmanlike penalty was one of several that
Auburn suffered during the game, as the Tigers seemed determined to
rout NU and self-destruct simultaneously.
Auburn proved able to do neither. On the next Wildcat drive Kafka
turned on the jets, and his 39-yard pass to Andrew Brewer gave NU their
first score and allowed the 'Cats to join the battle in earnest.
In the second quarter, NU had a chance to cut Auburn's lead further,
but Stefan Demos missed the first of his field goal tries. Demos
had a world-class bad day in Tampa, missing both field goal tries
(including the fourth quarter, last-second try that would have won the
game) as well as an extra point (which NU would recoup, spectacularly,
with a wild two-point conversion on its final touchdown).
Auburn regained its 14-point lead, but failed to extend it
further. Sherrick McManis snagged a pick late in the second
quarter, setting up a strong Wildcat drive that, unfortunately, also
ended with an endzone interception.
Again in the third quarter Auburn appeared set to take an
insurmountable 21-point lead, but Brian Peters performed a heroic
circus catch to intercept at the NU one-yard line, and he kept the
'Cats in the game. Kafka again connected with Brewer for a long
bomb to bring NU back to a one-TD deficit. With the Wildcat defense coming to
the challenge and Nate Williams rampaging through the Tiger backfield,
Auburn relinquished the ball to NU for the potential tying score.
And tie NU did, when at the Wildcat 34-yard line Kafka connected with
Drake Dunsmore. Dunsmore slipped a tackle and then became the Man
Who Would Not Be Denied, tear-assing through the Tiger defense like a
wild man for 66 yards. Dunsmore's Touchdown of Iron Will is my
pick for the NU play of the game, which says a lot: there were enough
eye-popping plays for a lifetime of bowl action.
Midway through the fourth quarter the tide again turned against NU, and
Auburn again took a 14-point lead. NU, however, played a zombie
attack strategy for this bowl: just when you thought it was dead and
buried, it returned to feed and menace. The 'Cats' nine lives and
afterlives cycled through with abandon on their drive midway through
the fourth quarter, when NU converted three
fourth-down attempts to string the drive out and finish with a
courageous Kafka burst into the endzone. On the next Auburn drive
Brad Phillips forced a fumble that set up NU's final touchdown and the
crazy two-point conversion: a reverse to Brewer that he rifled into the
endzone for a touchdown.
With the game-winning kick sailing right of the mark and the final
seconds drained, NU opted to defend to begin overtime and held Auburn
to a field goal. The next ten plays will go down as one of the
craziest series in NU history. A completed pass initially ruled a
fumble, a Wildcat first down, then a Kafka sack that initially was also
ruled a fumble led to Auburn fans celebrating their win. But
Zombie Nation wasn't done yet. NU wasn't dead, and Kafka was
Facing fourth down in NU's OT efforts, Demos attempted to kick a goal
to send the game into a second set, but his kick sailed wide
again. Again Auburn players and fans began to celebrate, and
again NU wasn't yet dead: a roughing the kicker penalty kept the game
going. However, Demos was injured, and NU was without a kicking
option. Facing first and goal, NU was nine yards away from the
historic moment of the twenty-first century: bowl victory. But
three plays stalled, and the Wildcats again had their hopes pinned on a
fourth-down play, only five yards away from the goal.
Coach Fitzgerald decided to put his freshman kicker on the field for a
fake and a modification of the "fastball" fumblerooskie play.
Before ESPN could get its cameras fixed on the action the 'Cats took a
quick snap and gave the ball to Zeke Markshausen. As the line
shifted right, so did Markshausen, rather than remaining still for a
few more seconds. The play was blown, and the Auburn defense
keyed in to the developing play, knocking Markshausen out of bounds
with just 60 inches to go to reach the goal of goals. While the
play was not executed to perfection, the call was a good one, and Coach
Fitzgerald stood by it in his post-game conference. The play was
one twitch away from going down as one of the all-time classics in NU
The ninth life of the 'Cats was snuffed, and Northwestern added another
wild memory to the collage of 61 seasons of the Quest. They did
so in a gritty and gutsy performance, and they did so on the heels of a
fantastic eight-win season. Congratulations and thanks to the
Wildcat seniors, among the most successful in the history of the