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Exploring six possible ACC/Pac-12 rivalries for Northwestern football

Some of these rivalries are not like the others.

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Northwestern v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

On August 13, news first reported by The Athletic stated that the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC were having talks about forming an “alliance”, which reportedly not only included scheduling games for football but also broader involvement across most sports. While nothing has been set in store, there are obviously major implications that come with this scenario, including the potential for new rivalries. With that in mind, let’s examine three other schools that Northwestern football could form formal rivalries with should this all come to fruition.


This is likely the most obvious school you’ll see on this list. The Wildcats and the Blue Devils have played quite a few games over the past couple of years, with Duke taking the most recent matchup in 2018. They even have a game coming up in just over four weeks down in Durham! When it comes to the all-time series, Northwestern and Duke are split down the middle, with each team sitting at 10 wins a piece. While the games they’ve played haven’t ever been especially close, one team has always been able to showcase its ability.

In terms of other sports, the rivalry could persist, though some may be one-sided. We’d likely not see a very competitive men’s basketball series, though women’s basketball could have some intriguing games. Additionally, Duke women’s lacrosse has been solid in recent years, making the Final Four in 2015. Those games could be very fun to watch. Even outside of sports entirely, the schools are very academically similar. All in all, Duke and Northwestern is a shoo-in for a new rivalry.


This one is interesting, and I’ll admit, it’s based entirely on proximity. Louisville is about five hours away from Chicago, and is nearly a straight shot down the I-65, branding this matchup The I-65 Series.

Here’s the real kicker: Northwestern and Louisville have never played against each other in football. Surprising, right? You’d think that in their extensive histories they would have crossed paths at least once, but they haven’t. This blank slate creates the perfect opportunity for a new rivalry to be born, as wins would mean so much more. No fanbase would be able to reference the all-time series record as leverage. Every game would matter.

Outside of football, the rivalry could still persist, but it likely wouldn’t be as strong. Men’s basketball would once again be uncompetitive. Women’s basketball could see some heated games, as the ‘Cats did just fall to Louisville in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. Both men’s and women’s soccer have done well in recent years at both schools, so we could see some intriguing matchups there as well. The ‘Cats and the Cardinals could definitely make for an interesting new rivalry.


All credit goes to Josh Held on Twitter for the inspiration on this one, as his tweet here is what spurred my initial research.

The reason for this rivalry would be that Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management has an established Executive MBA in Miami. That’s really the extent of it. Call it the Kellogg Series, if you will. I have a feeling Northwestern fans would care a bit more about this one than Miami fans, but who knows. Depending on the year, football games in this one could go either way. The all-time series is tied 2-2, but the teams last faced each other in 1968. Overall, it’s another close-to-clean slate for the rivalry to start on.


As we move to the Pac-12, the first school mentioned could have honestly been any of the three listed in this article. Alas, the first one we’ll go with is Stanford, a school that Northwestern football has seen twice in the past six years. In 2015, the ‘Cats took down Kevin Hogan and Co. en route to a 16-6 victory. Four years later, the Cardinal got their revenge, beating the ‘Cats 17-7.

Of course, recent matchups isn’t the only reason this rivalry would work. Both Northwestern and Stanford are already sometimes viewed as the “Ivy Leagues” of their respective conferences due to their academic standards. Additionally, both schools are similar sizes, with Stanford having an undergraduate population of just under 7,000 and NU having an undergraduate population of around 8,000. Stanford and Northwestern have a lot of similarities, and I have a feeling that would translate well onto the gridiron. Maybe not so much for other sports, though.


Much like a potential Northwestern-Stanford rivalry, this one could be based around academics (especially journalism schools), but in football, these two schools obviously have some history. The Wildcats have never beaten the Trojans in football, going 0-5 since 1952. Their most recent matchup was the 1996 Rose Bowl, in which the ‘Cats fell 41-32. Of course, the purple hasn’t gone to Pasadena since. Football-wise, it could certainly make for an intriguing rivalry considering the history, and I’d pay big money to see the Wildcats roll into LA Coliseum and steal away a victory.


For our final potential rivalry, we remain in the state of California. Just like the previous two Pac-12 teams listed, academics could play a factor here, but for the sake of uniqueness let’s throw that out the window. This rivalry could be similar to the a hypothetical rivalry with USC, as Northwestern’s first (and only) Rose Bowl victory came in a 20-14 victory over Cal way back in 1949. In terms of an all-time series, the ‘Cats lead 2-1, with their most recent game being played at Ryan Field in 2014, where Cal won 31-24.

Ironically, the coach for California in that Rose Bowl game was former Northwestern head coach Pappy Waldorf. Waldorf, who coached the Wildcats from 1935-1946 and brought the ‘Cats to some of their first great seasons, soon moved to California and did the exact same with the Golden Bears. Then, of course, his current and former team clashed in the Rose Bowl. There’s a clear basis for a rivalry here, with multiple tidbits of intriguing history. If these two teams were to form a new rivalry, they could play for the Pappy Waldorf Trophy.