It’s time machine season at SB Nation’s college blogs. In 2007, the college football world melted down. Rutgers truly deserved its “s”, Kansas was a BCS contender, Michigan lost to Appalachian State, and many, many other ridiculous things happened. It may have been the best college football season ever.
However, there was no chaos at Northwestern. There was moderate hype for the season with star running back Tyrell Sutton entering his junior year. With the program still recovering from the passing of Randy Walker and Pat Fitzgerald in his second year, Northwestern went 6-6 and 3-5 in the Big Ten. Sutton got hurt. Northwestern was pretty bad. But with all the 2007 talk in the air, it’s worth turning back the clock for one article. It can’t hurt. The early part of the season certainly had its share of crazy games.
Week 1 - The Northwestern/Northeastern beatdown
As a Northwestern student from the Northeast, you have no idea how many times I’ve been asked if I go to Northeastern University. You’d think that Northwestern, now widely known as one of the best schools in the country and an NCAA Tournament participant, would not be confused with some random school in Boston, but here we are. Northeastern does have nearly three times as many undergraduate students as Northwestern, but we have an FBS football team.
That FBS football team destroyed Northeastern’s FCS team 27-0 in the first game of the 2007 season. Meanwhile, No. 5 Michigan and Chad Henne were busy losing to Appalachian State.
Week 2 - Northwestern barely beats Nevada 36-31
Yeah, this was the first inkling that Northwestern might not be very good in 2007. Nevada was coming off a 52-10 loss to No. 19 Nebraska (a team that eventually finished 5-7). Against a WAC team with no real pedigree to speak of, Northwestern needed a 80-yard drive with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter to win at home. C.J. Bacher hit Ross Lane with 21 seconds left for the game-winning touchdown, but this game was honestly way too close.
Weeks 3-5 - Utter desolation
Northwestern followed up its near-disaster with a real disaster against Duke in Ryan Field the next week. Northwestern lost 20-14 to Duke. This may sound okay in 2017, but Duke went 1-11 in 2007. Duke snapped its 22-game losing streak by winning this game. Duke won 2 games between 2005 and 2007. THIS WAS ONE OF THEM! Current Inside NU writer Martin Oppegaard was there:
“As a ten-year-old, I was really taking it all in. The Wildcats were 2-0 at the time and looking to go 3-0. We had four turnovers on downs in the game. It was brutal.”
The final turnover on downs came with C.J. Bacher driving Northwestern down the field to win the game down 20-14. Bacher led Northwestern down to Duke’s seven yard line, but through four straight incompletions to end the game.
Northwestern outgained Duke 506-309, but had 13 penalties for 125 yards. This was most definitely Northwestern’s worst home loss until the 9-7 to Illinois State last year.
Next, Northwestern traveled to Ohio State and lost 58-7. No comment.
Then, Northwestern lost 28-16 at Michigan in a pedestrian showing for the Wildcats.
Weeks 6-7 - October Madness
In 2006, Northwestern blew the largest lead in FBS history by blowing a 38-0 lead at home to Michigan State. In 2007, Northwestern took revenge by defeating Michigan State 48-41 in overtime. It was one of Bacher’s finest moments.
Next, Northwestern took a double overtime win over an awful Minnesota team. Minnesota, tired of playing and desperate for a win, tried for a two-point conversion to end the game in double overtime. It didn’t work.
Weeks 8-12 - Mediocrity
For the rest of the season, Northwestern was mediocre. Supposedly, exactly 10,000 people showed up to Ford Field to watch Northwestern beat Eastern Michigan 26-14. I would guess the true number of fans was significantly overestimated. Northwestern then lost 35-17 to Purdue and 17-28 to Iowa. At Northwestern’s November 10th game against Indiana, only 20,466 fans watched Bacher lead another fourth quarter comeback to beat the Hoosiers 31-28. The season ended with a humiliating 41-22 loss to Illinois.
Conclusions - It’s hard to be a football coach.
Pat Fitzgerald was clearly still learning the ropes in year two. Despite a relatively talented roster and an easy schedule, Northwestern just could not play high level football for long periods of time. Four of the games Northwestern won were through minor miracles, building Fitzgerald’s reputation as one of the best coaches in close games. However, the other games were complete catastrophes. Northwestern wasn’t even close to Iowa, Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois in 2007. In a year of total chaos, it was Kentucky, Kansas, Rutgers, and Hawaiʻi that provided surprises. Northwestern sat out this one.
The foundation that Pat Fitzgerald was building did not really appear until 2008, when Northwestern went 9-4 and made the Alamo Bowl. 2007 was a period of growth, but it wasn’t exactly memorable.