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Fun facts, figures and notes about Northwestern football’s 2022 schedule

It’s not every season you play overseas and in Happy Valley.

2022 Big Ten Conference Football Media Days Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

As eager (or frightened, or both) as you may be knowing that Northwestern’s 2022 season will begin in under two weeks, there is still a smattering of games and 14 weeks left on the calendar for the Wildcats.

Some opponents — namely those in the Big Ten West — look rather familiar on NU’s slate, while some are totally unprecedented.

The ‘Cats possess a rather difficult schedule this upcoming season, ranking 25th in ESPN’s Football Power Index strength of schedule (which is a flawed stat in and of itself). In spite of the challenge, Pat Fitzgerald and his squad will literally venture to unchartered territories, duel with never-before-seen foes and oppose historic programs.

Below is a cornucopia of intriguing information related to Northwestern’s 2022 schedule:

Week One: Nebraska (Dublin, Ireland)

When NU effectively kicks off the 2022 college football season in Aviva Stadium, the Wildcats will be taking part in their first ever game outside of the United States.

In fact, the showdown between Northwestern and Nebraska in Dublin will be the first non-U.S. regular-season college football game since Aug. 26, 2017, when Stanford and Rice played in Australia. More specifically, the last game in Ireland was Sept. 3, 2016 between Georgia Tech and Boston College; the first occurred in 1988, with the Eagles and the then-Army Cadets taking part.

The purple and white will start their season with a conference opponent for a third straight year, the first such streak since 1980-82. Moreover, this will be the initial time Northwestern has begun a year by playing Nebraska. It will also mark Fitzgerald’s team’s earliest calendar opener since 1997, when it played on Aug. 23 against Oklahoma.

Week Two: Bye

A bye this early into the year? That’s a byproduct of playing overseas before most other teams have even put the pads on.

Believe it or not, this will be the second time in four years that the Wildcats have had a week one bye; the other furlough transpired in 2019. So much for extra rest, as Northwestern went 3-9 that season.

Week Three: Duke (Evanston, Ill.)

Given Northwestern’s and Duke’s existing academic prominence, the two universities are forming somewhat of a gridiron rivalry.

The ‘Cats and Blue Devils will have squared off in six of the last eight years and 12 times since the turn of the century. Last season, David Cutcliffe’s team eked out a 30-23 victory, extending Duke’s winning streak to three by a lopsided 92-47 advantage. The all-time record is 11-10 Duke.

A reason for solace: the last three instances Duke has played in Evanston (2007, 2016, 2018), Northwestern has done no worse than a .500 record on the season.

Week Four: Southern Illinois (Evanston, Ill.)

Northwestern’s first clash with a non-Power Five squad comes on September 17, when it takes on the SIU Salukis.

The two have only played once: a 2008 33-7 NU victory that featured three touchdowns from Tyrell Sutton. As some may recall, the weather for that contest was seemingly gruesome.

Although Southern Illinois has made the postseason the last two years, HC Nick Hill’s team has not opposed a Big Ten opponent since 2015, when it lost 48-47 at Indiana.

Week Five: Miami-Ohio (Evanston, Ill.)

Somewhat surprisingly, Northwestern and Miami-Ohio have played nine contests, with the latter holding a 6-3 series edge. The teams have not played since 2009, but the Wildcats are 2-0 under Fitzgerald against the RedHawks.

Miami-Ohio has produced rather robust NFL talent, some of which has played against NU. For instance, current Rams coach Sean McVay had two carries for four yards against the ‘Cats in 2006, while Steelers legend Ben Roethlisberger posted a 75.7 completion percentage, 353 yards, three scores, zero interceptions and a 182.6 in 2003 vs. the purple and white.

Northwestern’s 2006 victory was rather crucial: it snapped a five-game Miami win streak that had spanned over 40 years, dating back to 1964.

This will be the first time in three years that NU plays three straight games at home.

Week Six: at Penn State (State College, Pa.)

Five years have elapsed since Penn State and Northwestern played in October 2017, which was a 31-7 Nittany Lion victory. The last time the two met, PSU had Saquon Barkley, Allen Robinson, Mike Gesicki, Miles Sanders, Amani Oruwariye and many more — no wonder James Franklin’s team went 11-2 that season.

Though not included in NU’s initial 2022 slate, the Wildcats will travel to Happy Valley for the first time since 2014, where the team started a two-game win streak over the blue and white. Cumulatively, Fitzgerald holds a 1-3 record in Beaver Stadium.

Week Seven: Wisconsin (Evanston, Ill.)

Although some of Northwestern’s opponents are rare, the Badgers are not part of that grouping. The schools have played in each of the last nine seasons, in which Fitzgerald is 4-5. The rivalry has been fierce given that no team has won more than two consecutive matchups since 2010.

2021’s 35-7 drubbing in Madison marked the biggest margin of victory for Wisconsin over NU since 2013. In last year’s game, Badger back Braelon Allen tallied a prolific 173 rushing yards, the most by a UW runner against the Wildcats since Melvin Gordon in 2014.

There is light at the end of the tunnel from a purple perspective. Northwestern has won the last two games against Wisconsin in Evanston, and Paul Chryst has not emerged victorious in Ryan Field since 2016.

Week Eight: Bye

A traditional bye week greets the Wildcats in week eight. The last time the team had a bye after playing half of its schedule was 2010, when NU went 7-6 and lost to Texas Tech in the Ticket City Bowl.

Northwestern also had a two-bye season in 2019 and in 2014.

Week Nine: at Maryland (College Park, Md.)

The Wildcats and Terrapins will have matched up in two of the last three campaigns, but this will only be their third ever head-to-head contest.

Northwestern has never lost to Maryland, holding a decisive 80-24 scoring advantage over UMD. Further, this will be NU’s first trip to College Park since 2017 and only its second time playing at Maryland.

Week 10: at Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa.)

There’s nothing more characteristic of Big Ten West football than the storied Iowa-Northwestern rivalry.

While the Hawkeyes maintain a stark 52-28-3 all-time lead over the Wildcats, NU has gone 10-7 in the last 17 matchups. From 1974-1994, the ‘Cats never dethroned Iowa, but that changed in the program’s record-setting 1995 season.

2022 will mark the 18th straight season pitting these teams against one another, of which five of the last six have been decided by one score. Likewise, the longest win streak by one side since ’05 is only three games.

Of note, the road team has won the last four games in this series. Northwestern will return to Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 29.

Week 11: Ohio State (Evanston, Ill.)

Unlike its gritty encounters with Wisconsin and Iowa, this affair has been wholly lopsided.

Ohio State has won the last nine games against Northwestern, scoring 40+ points in seven of those contests. NU has not prevailed since 2004, one of its two wins against the Buckeyes since 1970.

Week 12: at Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minn.)

The Golden Gophers and ‘Cats will have played in 15 of the last 16 years, a string of games only upended by a COVID-related cancellation in 2020. The last two were held in Ryan Field, but Northwestern returns to Huntington Bank Stadium for the first time in four years.

Fitzgerald holds an 8-6 record against Minnesota but is 2-2 against P.J. Fleck. Recently, UMN has dominated the Wildcats, winning in 2019 and 2021; the last time Fitzgerald’s squad even led was in 2018.

Week 13: at Purdue (West Lafayette, Ind.)

After playing in storied Wrigley Field last November, the Purdue-Northwestern series returns to its stomping grounds of West Lafayette. 2022 is the ninth straight season putting these teams against one another.

Northwestern has several historic factors in its favor for this game. Fitzgerald holds an 8-5 record over the Boilermakers, and the Wildcats have won the last five meetings in Ross-Ade Stadium. Conversely, PU quarterback and Illinois native Aidan O’Connell’s 957 passing yards against NU are his most facing a single team, and his seven touchdowns are tied for the highest versus an opponent.

Week 14: Illinois (Evanston, Ill.)

Northwestern had an opportunity to knot the all-time series last November but squandered it in a crushing 47-14 defeat. Currently, Illinois possesses an all-time advantage of 56-54-5. The two know each other intimately, as NU has concluded every regular season against its in-state foe for the last 10 years.

As is the case with Purdue, the Wildcats have typically excelled against the Illini. The last time NU dropped two in a row to U of I was from 2010-11, and Fitzgerald has won the last three games in Evanston. The orange crush might be seeping in after Brent Bielema’s victory last year, however: Bielema became the first rookie Big Ten West head coach to triumph over Fitzgerald since Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen did so in 2013.