Northwestern Football: Down In The Dumps


Down In The Dumps: NU football finishes 2022 season 1-11

For the first time since 1989, the Northwestern Wildcats football team finished with an eleven loss season. Aside from the shortened 2020 season, Northwestern has struggled against Big Ten and out of conference competition. Their biggest rival, Illinois, has dominated the Land of Lincoln rivalry for two straight seasons, and with the Illini’s best season in about 15 years, they look to build towards a potential Big 10 title run next year. The Wildcats on the other hand, have had their fair share of struggles.

Northwestern has never really been a football powerhouse, and it’s not hard to figure out why. As one of the most prestigious universities in America, Northwestern doesn’t make many exceptions for their athlete applicants, which makes recruiting difficult. Similar to other prestigious universities like Virginia, Rice, Cal Berkeley, Notre Dame, Boston College, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Duke, and Stanford, applicants must be elite both in the classroom and on the field, which doesn’t add up to the most successful way to recruit. 

Northwestern is also known for putting their academic achievements before athletics. This has caused some controversy in the program’s history and recruiting strategy. Back in 1963, after leading the Wildcats to some of the best seasons in program history, coach Ara Parseghian left for the Notre Dame coaching job, citing lack of funding into football and NU’s insistence not to play in bowl games as a primary concern. Parshegian would go on to become a Notre Dame legend and lay claim to the 1966 national championship. Northwestern football would collapse in the decades after Parshegian left. 

Regardless, Northwestern isn’t going to compete for national championships like some of their Big Ten conference partners. However, under coach Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern has gone from Rutgers level awful to respectable and even a Big Ten contender. Coach Fitz has led the Wildcats to five bowl wins (ending NU’s 64 year bowl winless streak in the process), three 10 win seasons (after only having 1 in the program history before Fitzgerald took over), and even two Big Ten West Division titles. Even so, Northwestern’s record from 2019 to 2022, excluding the Covid year, is 7-29. In 2020 alone, Northwestern went 7-2. 2022 was the culmination of many issues plaguing the once contending program. 

The 2022 season got off to a thrilling start for Northwestern. After a 31-24 win in Dublin, Ireland against Big Ten foe Nebraska. After that, the wheels fell off, the bus rolled down a hill into a lake of fire and everybody’s hopes and dreams died in the crash. The Wildcats lost to Duke in the “nerd bowl” 31-23 after fumbling on the one yard line going in to tie the game. The next two games were supposed to be easy wins against Southern Illinois, an FCS school, and Miami of Ohio, a MAC school. Instead, the Wildcats suffered two embarrassing losses at home spelled doom to the Wildcats season. A 1-11 season, with only two conference games ending with NU within one score of the winner. To quote Charles Barkeley, “That’s turrible.”

So where does NU go from here? Besides not winning a game on US soil the whole year, it seems that both offensive and defensive coordinators Mike Bajakian and Jim O’Neil will be fired. Northwestern’s offense was historically awful. According to David Hale over at ESPN, “Remember when Northwestern stunned Nebraska in Week 0? The Wildcats scored 31 in that game. They didn’t top 24 in another game all season. In the month of November, Northwestern scored a grand total of 22 points.” That is honestly impressive. 

Coach Fitz has been dodgy when asked about coaching turnover and even his own job security. Fitzgerald, a former linebackers coach, has been criticized for his poor defenses in the last couple seasons. Again, the need for new coordinators is evident, as NU couldn’t stop Iowa, Maryland, and Purdue, who were mired for their poor running game and offenses as a whole. 

This season was my first year that I really followed NU football. Northwestern is my dream school and if I get in I at least want a semi-decent football team to cheer for. It has gotten so bad that some at Inside NU, a fan-run news site for NU athletics that I frequent, are proposing either firing Fitzgerald or dropping down to the Ivy League and calling it a day. Both are radical to say the least. 

Firing Coach Fitz would leave NU back in the dark ages of the late 70’s – early 80’s (a time period in which NU set the longest losing streak amongst D1 programs in modern college football history). While NU’s academic standards are comparable, dropping down to the Ivy League would be a cop out in hard times, and NU has been in the Big Ten since its inception. 

In a season of historic lows, there were some highs to salvage. Of course the win in Ireland was awesome and gave some hope to this season. The second best moment would probably be the play of Peter Skoronski and Evan Hull. Skoronski is one of the best offensive lineman in the country and could be a top ten pick in the NFL draft. Hull was the only semblance of a pulse on offense, as he had over 1,600 all purpose yards. The third best moment…I mean, being down only 7 in the 4th quarter against Ohio State was pretty impressive. The new Ryan Field announcement was neat. 

 I hope NU can find the success they’ve had under Fitzgerald in the previous years. Coach Fitz is a fantastic coach, and what he has done for Northwestern athletics in general can’t be overstated. New indoor practice facilities, the best success in program history, and a new 480 million dollar stadium to replace the dilapidated Ryan Field are all things to be celebrated. The 2022 season, not so much.