Northwestern Wildcats Football Details
The origins of the Northwestern football program date back to 1876 even though the school did not play an intercollegiate game until 1882 (against Lake Forest). On February 22, 1876, a group of students played a game against the Chicago Football Club. From then until 1882, football was just an intramural sport.
In the early years, the team operated as an independent. But in 1896 they became one of the charter members of what would eventually become the Big Ten (initially called the Western Conference).
The name ‘Wildcats’ stuck after a reporter referred to the team as a ‘wall of purple wildcats’ in the Chicago Tribune in 1924.
While the team has never contended for a national title, it has won eight conference championships over the years. The first came back in 1903 under the guidance of Walter McCornack.
The school suspended the program for a couple of years because of the perceived brutality of football at the time. Once they started playing again, they struggled to find a way to win. But from 1926-1936 they figured out a way, taking home four conference titles (1926, ’30, ’31, and ’36).
Fans at Ryan Field (formerly Dyche Stadium; located in Evanston, Illinois) did not have much to be excited about until Gary Barnett took over the program almost sixty years later. It took him a few years, but in 1995 he guided the team to an undefeated conference record and a trip to the Rose Bowl. They won the conference that year and the next (tied for first).
Their last conference title came in 2000 in Randy Walker’s second year in charge of the program.
Pat Fitzgerald will be heading into his 12th season as the head coach of the program this season. The team has enjoyed some success in recent years with 10-win seasons in 2012 and 2015, but last season they struggled to find consistency and slipped to 7-6.
The hope for the 2017 season will lie in running back Justin Jackson returning to form and the development of quarterback Clayton Thorson. Jackson ran for over 1500 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. This season could be as good with four of five starting offensive linemen returning. But they will need a wide receiver to step up now that Austin Carr is playing for the New England Patriots.