Went down a rabbit hole out of sheer curiosity, and so here's your top 25 worst Wildcat football teams of all-time, with notable stats, etc. (and 7 honorable mention squads should someone want to 32-team bracket-ize this thing someday, though if this year's team does go 1-11, they're gonna need to take a spot of their own).
1. 1981 (0-11, 0-9 B1G)
-Shutout in 5 different contests.
-A 1-point loss to Indiana and a 12-point loss to Minnesota were the only games with a margin of victory under 31.
-QB Mike Kerrigan had a 46.8% completion percentage with 7 TDs and 13 INTs.
-The team’s leading rusher had 162 yards for the season and did not score a single TD.
-The team’s seniors graduated with an infamous 1-42-1 record in 4 years.
2. 1989 (0-11, 0-8 B1G)
-Only played one ranked team all year.
-A 2-point loss to Minnesota and a 5-point loss to Wisconsin were the only games with a single-digit margin of victory.
-Opponents averaged over 500 yards of offense per game.
3. 1978 (0-10-1, 0-8-1 B1G)
-After a scoreless tie against Illinois in their opener, did not come within 16 points of any other opponent.
-Coach Rick Venturi holds the school’s all-time lowest winning percentage for his career (.045).
-At 8.4 points per game, and 40.0 points per game allowed, was both the lowest scoring team in the country and the worst scoring defense in the county.
4. 1980 (0-11, 0-9 B1G)
-QB Mike Kerrigan threw 17 INTs.
-A 7-point loss to Michigan was this team’s closest game.
5. 1955 (0-8-1, 0-6-1 B1G)
-Did not score more than 14 points in any game.
-Lost to (then) non-major Miami (OH).
-Lou Saban, who only coached Northwestern for 1 year, was the only coach in school history to never win a game (though his tie with Illinois prevented him from having the school’s all-time lowest winning percentage).
6. 1957 (0-9, 0-7 B1G)
-Ara Parseghian’s only winless team, the ’57 Cats did play 6 ranked opponents, but were also shutout by 2 of the 3 unranked opponents they faced.
7. 1894 (4-5)
-Three of this teams wins came against Evanston High School, the other came against Lake Forest (who also beat NU that year).
-A.A. Ewing’s squad also lost 3 games to U-Chicago and Illinois by an aggregate score of 148-0.
8. 1921 (1-6, 0-5 Western)
-Shutout in every game but one, a win over non-major DePaul.
-Also lost to non-major Beloit.
9. 1914 (1-6, 0-6 Western)
-Beat non-major Lake Forest before being swept by all conference opposition.
-Scored a total of 6 points in conference play.
10. 1913 (1-6, 0-6 Western)
-Beat non-major Lake Forest before being swept in conference, including a 78-6 drubbing by Iowa.
11. 1944 (1-7-1, 0-5-1 Western)
-Trounced non-major DePauw 62-0, then scored 40 points the rest of the season, including a 25-0 loss to Great Lakes Navy.
12. 1909 (1-3-1, 1-3 Western)
-Tied non-major Illinois Wesleyan, then was outscored 95-25 against conference opponents.
13. 1910 (1-3-1, 1-2-1 Western)
-Shutout in every game but one, but at least it was a win over Iowa.
-Lost to non-major Illinois Wesleyan.
14. 1942 (1-9, 0-6 Western)
-Faced six ranked opponents, and beat Texas 3-0.
-Losses included Great Lakes Navy and Iowa Pre-Flight.
15. 1979 (1-10, 0-9 B1G)
-QB Mike Kerrigan threw 4 TDs and 17 INTs.
-The ’79 ‘Cats nearly shocked tough B1G opponents, holding #8 Ohio State to 16 points and #16 Purdue to 20 points in a pair of single-digit losses; but, every other conference opponent scored 28 or more, and the ‘Cats sole win was over Wyoming.
16. 1977 (1-10, 1-8 B1G)
-Averaged a paltry 78.9 passing yards, and just 9.3 points per game.
-Held Illinois to 7 points in a season-ending victory to avoid a winless season.
17. 1976 (1-10, 1-7 B1G)
-Basically the ’77 team with slightly less bad stats.
18. 1983 (2-9, 2-7 B1G)
-With Denny Green as reigning Big Ten coach of the year, the ’83 ‘Cats actually won a pair of games in conference, but got no relief in their non-conference, facing Washington and Syracuse, who went a combined 14-9.
-Sandy Schwab threw 6 TDs and 19 INTs.
-The ‘Cats were last in college football in scoring, and second to last in points against.
-Even the kicking game struggled, with more field goals missed than made.
19. 1984 (2-9, 2-7 B1G)
-Sandy Schwab threw 2 TDs and 9 INTs before being replaced by Mike Greenfield as the starter at QB midseason (see the ’85 and '87 notes a few spots below).
-The ‘Cats again faced Washington and Syracuse in non-conference and found an even higher hurdle, as they went a combined 17-6 in ’84 – though Syracuse escaped with only a 1-point win.
20. 1987 (2-8-1, 2-7 B1G)
-With Greenfield as a senior, he "improved" to 425 yards rushing and 6 passing TDs, and the team also got two defensive scores and a punt return TD, but still managed to go winless against the same non-conference slate Denny Green had gone 2-1 against two years earlier.
21. 1968 (1-9, 1-6 B1G)
-A team that was better than its record, the ’68 ‘Cats took on a murderer’s row of Miami (FL), USC, and Notre Dame in non-conference play, and faced six ranked opponents overall.
-Other than a 13-10 win against Wisconsin, however, Alex Agase’s squad lost by 14 or more to every foe they faced.
22. 1990 (2-9, 1-7 B1G)
-Though less statistically jarring than the ‘80s teams that preceded it (QB Len Williams actually threw more TDs than INTs!), the results were similar: Wins over Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, who went a combined 7-15, and not much else.
23. 1991 (3-8, 2-7 B1G)
-Francis Peay’s team improved by one conference win, led by Mark Benson’s 831 receiving yards and 7 TD catches, but Illinois was the only team Northwestern beat that totaled more than 3 wins.
24. 1985 (3-8, 1-7 B1G)
-Denny Green’s last team knocked off Northern Illinois and Missouri in non-conference play for the ‘Cats most promising start of his tenure; but the team then faltered during a conference stretch where they allowed 31 or more points 5 games in a row.
-QB Mike Greenfield was a nominal "dual threat," running for 4 TDs while throwing 5, but amazingly gained only 70 yards on 168 carries.
25. 2002 (3-9, 1-7 B1G)
-Jason Wright was a bright spot, with 1500 all-purpose yards, but Brett Basanez had not yet rounded into form, throwing as many INTs as TDs (7).
-Despite wins against weaker competition, the ’02 ‘Cats had some of the most lopsided losses in program history, falling 52-3 to Air Force, 49-0 to Penn State, and 62-10 to Iowa.
(Dis-?) Honorable mention:
1982 (3-8, 2-7 B1G)
-Denny Green’s Big Ten Coach of the Year season; this team Laked the Posts against Northern Illinois, but was otherwise still overmatched much of the time.
1988 (2-8-1, 2-5-1 B1G)
-Only played one ranked team all year.
-Defense forced just 5 turnovers for the season.
1998 (3-9, 0-8 B1G)
-D’Wayne Bates had 1245 receiving yards and Damien Anderson chipped in 537 yards on the ground, but this was another team with more INTs than TDs.
-They were held to 10 points or less in 6 of their 8 conference games.
2021 (3-9, 1-8 B1G)
-Following the retirement of Mike Hankwitz and the graduation of Peyton Ramsey, the pandemic-season B1G West Champs collapsed, failing to top 21 points in any conference game and giving up massive chunk plays on defense from the literal first play of the season.
1999 (3-8, 1-7 B1G)
-Damien Anderson had 1,312 all-purpose yards.
-But after a 2-1 start, the ’99 ‘Cats collapsed, giving up 29 or more points to every conference opponent except Iowa.
2006 (4-8, 2-6 B1G)
-Upset by Chip Kelly’s New Hampshire team, the ’06 Cats struggled through a seven game stretch in conference where they topped 10 points only twice.
-The defense gave up 31 or more in all but one loss, but showed up in wins, allowing 32 points total against Miami (OH), Eastern Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois.
1933 (1-5-2, 1-4-1 Western)
-Era adjusted rating systems really like the ’33 team because it had a dominant defense: Half their opponents were unable to score a touchdown.
-But Dick Hanley’s Wildcats were just as bad on offense, scoring in only one game all season, a 25-0 win over Indiana.