On Monday, over 2,000 freshmen will arrive on campus. They will move into their rooms. They will meet their roommates for the first time. And they will begin to explore their new home for the next four years.
Monday also marks the beginning of Wildcat Welcome, a weeklong orientation for freshmen that culminates with the Western Illinois football game. For most of these freshmen, the Western Illinois game will be their first taste of NU football. Most don’t know anything about the history of Northwestern football. They just became "fans" after the 2013 season when they were accepted into the school.
On Saturday these freshmen will fill up the student section. But they won’t know that the student section has moved to the other side of the field. They won’t know that Ryan Field has a new scoreboard. And they won’t know how horrendous the team has played since the last Wildcat Welcome. They will cheer on their Wildcats, clueless of the football program’s longest home losing streak since before they, or any of the players on the field, were even born.
The last time the Cats were victorious at Ryan Field was Sept. 21, when they beat Maine. Since then they have lost six straight home games. The last time NU dropped six in a row in Evanston was in 1990. The Cats finished 0-11 that season.
The Western Illinois game is on Sept. 20, 364 days after NU’s last home win. Obviously, a lot has happened since then. Many of our readers don’t need any reminding. But the incoming freshmen do. Class of 2018, here’s what has occurred since the last Wildcat Welcome.
Oct. 5—After winning its first four games relatively easily, No. 16 Northwestern hosted No. 4 Ohio State on homecoming weekend. Suddenly Evanston became the center of college football. Mike & Mike did a live show on Deering Meadow and ESPN’s College Gameday came to Northwestern for the first time since 1995. The nationally televised game lived up to the hype. NU played really well and led Ohio State by 10 in the third quarter. But the Buckeyes, who hadn’t lost in 17 straight games, came back to take the lead late in the fourth. Down by four with two minutes left the Cats drove into OSU territory, but failed to convert a fourth-and-1 and Ohio State went on to win 40-30.
Oct. 12—The Cats traveled to Wisconsin, where they were routed by the Badgers 35-6. Former All-American RB Venric Mark went down with an injury and didn’t play the rest of the season.
Oct. 26—Following a frustrating 20-17 loss to Minnesota on Parents’ Weekend, the Cats lost 17-10 at Iowa in overtime. A trend of losing close games began to form at this point.
Nov. 2—It finally looked like the Cats were going to snap their four game skid when they led Nebraska 24-21 late in the fourth quarter. But the Huskers won the game on a last-second Hail Mary. Surprisingly, this wasn’t even the low point of the season.
Nov. 16—At this point the excitement surrounding NU football at the start of the season had faded. Attendance at games had decreased rapidly and the Cats were now fighting to qualify for a bowl, something they had done every year since Pat Fitzgerald became the coach. Once again the Cats appeared to have a win locked up until the waning seconds, when Michigan made a last-second field goal to force overtime. The Wolverines outlasted NU in three overtimes, 27-19.
Nov. 30—The Cats edged out Illinois 37-34 in the season finale to end their seven-game losing streak. NU finished 5-7 (1-7 Big Ten) and failed to make a bowl.
April 26—Northwestern became the first team to vote on whether to unionize. The results have not been shared with the public. Graduated QB Kain Colter helped lead the unionization efforts, which garnered national attention.
August 13—NU fans got bad news before the season even started. Mark announced he was transferring from Northwestern and NU’s best WR Christian Jones went down with a season-ending injury on the same day.
August 30—Cal upset double-digit favorite Northwestern 31-24 at Ryan Field.
Last Saturday—NU fell to Northern Illinois 23-15 at home.
The Cats are now 0-2 and appear to be picking up where they left off last season. Any and all of the offseason optimism from fans has disappeared. They can only hope these two losses don’t snowball into something even worse than last season.
Maybe the class of 2018 will bring good fortune to the football team. Western Illinois is by far the easiest game on NU’s schedule so the Cats should win. But if they do, don’t take it for granted, freshmen. It might be another year until you see them win again in person. Welcome to Northwestern.