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Ranking Northwestern’s 21st century non-Power Five games on the sicko meter

Happy gameday.

NCAA Football: Akron at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern football is a rainbow of chaos.

Non-conference play is back today, and I’m not sure if there’s a better mantra out there that applies to NU’s history in non-Power Five games. Whether it was 2022 or 2001, the ‘Cats have played some incredibly fun (and ugly) early-season games that have been anything but sure victories.

You may be aware of the Sickos Committee (@SickosCommittee), one of the best follows on college football Twitter. Basically, they’re a group of fans drawn to weird matchups and games that the general public would consider highly unwatchable. Some examples? Think of what Northwestern-Iowa was hyped up to be in 2022, and what Minnesota-Nebraska actually was last week. Think mistake-filled games that are either low-scoring, filled with head-scratching plays or maybe even both. Think of games that make you say out loud, “Am I really watching a Division I football game?”

It feels like Northwestern tends to find itself in these types of games in non-conference play more often than not, especially for a Power Five team. And with UTEP entering the week as the favorite, with tickets selling for as low as $1, there’s a chance that everyone could be in store for another one.

With this in mind, and Northwestern’s last two non-Power Five games having fit the description of a prime sicko game to a T, I felt compelled to look back at the 46 games Northwestern has played in the regular season against non-Power Five teams since 2000 (no Notre Dame, and no bowl games). I separated them all into tiers based on how “sicko” they were and ranked them from 46 onward.

This is obviously subjective; my criteria hinges on how chaotic the games were as a whole. That includes in-game circumstances, funny stats, hilarious mistakes, how good Northwestern’s opponent actually was the season they played NU, etc. What I’m looking for is the type of game where a fan without a rooting interest flips the game on TV and laughs so hard at what they’re seeing that they cannot change the channel.

It’s also worth noting that I have not watched the large majority of these games in their entirety, so I could be massively undervaluing or overvaluing a few. Anyway, here we go:

Tier Six: The boring blowouts, utterly unfunny cases of the better team winning

46. Northwestern 41, Eastern Illinois 0 (2015)

45. Northwestern 33, Southern Illinois 7 (2008)

44. Northwestern 38, South Dakota 7 (2012)

43. Northwestern 28, Rice 6 (2011)

42. Miami (OH) 44, Northwestern 14 (2003)

When you think of 11 a.m. at Ryan Field, you don’t think of a first-round NFL prospect coming to town from outside of the Big Ten to put on a show. But that’s what Ben Roethlisberger did, as he threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns to rout the ‘Cats en route to a 13-1 season. Northwestern also blocked a field goal attempt, which warrants this game outranking the four before it.

41. Northwestern 37, Illinois State 3 (2010)

After recovering a fumble, Illinois State went on to throw a pick on the very next drive. Otherwise, this was pretty boring between these two teams... for now.

40. Northwestern 47, Towson 14 (2009)

39. Northwestern 35, Ohio 6 (2021)

Ohio’s game-ending 55-yard run to end the shutout bid was just excellent.

38. Northwestern 42, Eastern Illinois (2011)

37. Northwestern 24, Indiana State 6 (2021)

Hunter Johnson completed nine of his 16 passes for just 66 yards, and Northwestern pounded the rock. Three plays after Xander Mueller recovered a muffed punt in the first half, Johnson gave it right back on a fumble of his own. Both teams went 19 minutes trading punts!

36. Northwestern 38, Western Michigan 17 (2013)

P.J. Fleck’s team, which would go on to finish the 2013 season 1-11, led the No. 17 ‘Cats as late as the second quarter. Its lone win? A thrilling 31-30 victory over UMass, another 1-11 team. It ended with the Minutemen trying — and failing — to win the game with a two-point conversion.

35. Northwestern 49, Bowling Green 7 (2017)

Northwestern fumbled twice, and Bowling Green messed up a kick return that left it inside its own 10-yard line on one possession.

34. Northwestern 35, Northern Illinois 17 (2000)

Northern Illinois fumbled not once, but twice on the goal line.

Tier Five: Neutral good

33. Northwestern 27, Northeastern 0 (2007)

If this were any team besides Northeastern, this would have been almost dead last. But, the NU Bowl is just too good for that. The Huskies got inside the Northwestern 30 four times and didn’t score once.

32. Northwestern 38, Ohio 14 (2005)

Northwestern missed two field goals, threw a pick six and turned the ball over twice at the goal line, while still dropping 38 points. A three-drive sequence near the end of the game was also great: C.J. Bacher fumbled at the goal line, followed by an Ohio interception on the next play. After that, the ‘Cats got to the eight-yard line with 24 seconds to go, faced a fourth-and-7 and went for it up by 24. Bacher got picked in the end zone.

31. Northwestern 37, UNLV 28 (2001)

UNLV had an 87-yard kick return on a drive and failed to come away with points, as the Rebels got stuffed at the goal line.

30. Northwestern 30, Rice 13 (2010)

Rice turned it over four times, including a pick-six to linebacker and captain Quentin Davie. Northwestern also fumbled at the goal line. Not sure how this game got a Saturday night time slot, but it did.

29. Northwestern 24, Western Illinois 7 (2014)

Northwestern blocked a punt in the red zone, only for Trevor Siemian to fumble it right back on a strip sack. Western Illinois turned the ball over four times in this one, and both teams went a combined 7-for-31 on third downs. Also, “Leathernecks” is a team name that fits perfectly for this list in every way.

Tier 4.5: Neutral evil

28. Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15 (2014)

Northwestern blocked an extra point, which automatically makes this game awesome. The loss itself would’ve shot this game up a tier or two if the Huskies weren’t actually good; they won the MAC in 2014 and went 11-3.

27. New Hampshire 34, Northwestern 17 (2006)

It’s an FCS loss, sure, and a 17-point defeat at home. But this New Hampshire team held the No. 1 ranking in the FCS for five weeks. Both offenses were relatively normal. Weirdly, Northwestern only punted twice in this game. The ‘Cats fumbled twice, including once on a kick return, and went for it four times unsuccessfully on fourth down.

Tier Four: (Mostly) chaotic neutral

26. Northwestern 30, Central Michigan 25 (2010)

A 3-9 Central Michigan team had the game tied at 13 going into the half. Northwestern scored the next 17 points, but the Chippewas went on a late comeback to make it interesting. There were 20 (twenty!) total penalties in this game combined. That’s MACtion.

25. Northwestern 30, UNLV 14 (2019)

UNLV running back Charles Williams gave the ‘Cats a big scare early, as he escaped for touchdown runs from 65 and 37 yards out in the first half. Northwestern’s offense was clicking, though, so it ultimately didn’t matter. The Rebels fumbled twice in Wildcat territory. Hunter Johnson followed the first one up by reaching UNLV territory, only to throw an interception. Another sicko play: Paddy Fisher recorded a pick of his own in the third quarter and got stripped from behind on the return before the Wildcats recovered the fumble.

24. Miami (OH) 17, Northwestern 14 (2022)

This was prime MACtion after dark. Miami quarterback Aveon Smith, who replaced the injured Brett Gabbert for the night, was... not great. His line: 7-for-19, 62 yards passing and a touchdown. He could have had another, had he not missed a wide open receiver streaking down the right sideline on a botched NU coverage. The ‘Cats weren’t much better on offense, capping off the night with Malik Washington’s second fumble after he proved to be the only Wildcat player at a skill position to develop much momentum. Northwestern also blocked a Graham Nicholson kick!

23. Northwestern 26, Eastern Michigan 14 (2007)

Eastern Michigan threw three interceptions. Every single one was in Northwestern territory, and two were in the red zone. Both teams combined for six turnovers. Plus, this game was at Ford Field in Detroit as part of EMU’s “Collegiate Clash,” which started in 2004. Then, the April before the game, it got bumped from Saturday to Friday night because of the Detroit Catholic High School League playoffs. Did Ford Field officials make the right choice? Possibly. Eastern Michigan discontinued the Collegiate Clash after 2007.

22. Northwestern 36, Nevada 31 (2007)

Northwestern went down 24-10 at the half, with the final score of the second quarter coming on a 48-yard touchdown pass from Nevada as the clock ran out. Somehow, it wasn’t even a Hail Mary; Kyle Sammons just found himself wide open after Nevada signal-caller Nick Graziano avoided the pass rush. C.J. Bacher had to put together a last-minute touchdown drive to escape with the win against the Wolfpack, and the game ended with a safety.

21. Northwestern 31, Nevada 20 (2017)

In the first half, Charlie Kuhbander missed a 21-yard field goal and Ben Skowronek fumbled in the red zone. That allowed a Nevada team that would finish the year 3-9 to hold a 20-17 lead over the ‘Cats in the fourth quarter. Clayton Thorson put it away with two late touchdowns, but he was also part of a turnover sequence. With the game tied at 17, Nevada threw an INT in the end zone that Kyle Queiro snagged. Just three plays later, Thorson threw a pick that the Wolfpack turned into its final field goal of the game.

20. Northwestern 24, Ball State 19 (2015)

Jack Mitchell missed a 26-yard field goal in the fourth, but that special teams miscue was nowhere near as crazy as the ‘Cats blocking a Ball State PAT attempt. Another crazy sequence came in the second quarter. The Cardinals fumbled at the NU 4, which came on a mishandled snap. Thorson moved the chains once, but got picked off on a deep throw. How did Ball State fare on the next possession? A missed field goal.

A first-quarter fumble from Thorson might’ve been even funnier. On a run, he got stripped, and three Ball State players unsuccessfully dove at the ball as it rolled around before someone finally pounced on it. Both teams combined for over 900 yards of offense, and somehow only came away with 43 combined points.

Tier Three: Now it’s getting disgusting

19. Northwestern 35, Maine 21 (2013)

Unless you count Maine’s kneel-down to end the first half as a drive, NU ended consecutive possessions with pick-sixes. The first one came off a dropped pass, which was the possession after Kain Colter threw an interception that was tipped in the air by receiver Tony Jones. The second pick-six was returned by Dean Lowry for 19 yards, and a defensive lineman taking off with the ball is always something cool to see. Maine somehow outgained NU in yardage 379 to 373 in a game that featured five turnovers and kickers going 0-for-3 on field goals.

18. Northwestern 16, Miami (OH) 6 (2009)

Miami turned it over four times and didn’t put up points for 58 minutes. The RedHawks blocked a Stefan Demos field goal attempt. Both quarterbacks combined to complete 32 of their 67 passes for a touchdown, four interceptions and an average quarterback rating of 25.2. There were 15 punts in this game. This was just disgusting.

17. Northwestern 45, UMass 6 (2019)

Forget that this was a blowout. This was the Malört Bowl. Funny things that happened: a freshman Evan Hull erupting for 220 yards and four touchdowns, Chris Bergin returning a blocked kick by Joe Gaziano 85 yards to the house, Aidan Smith going 7-for-13 with 76 yards and two interceptions (while NU still won the game by 39) and the fact that 29,447 people apparently showed up to this game on a 35-degree day in the middle of November.

And there was much, much more.

16. Northwestern 21, Miami (OH) 3 (2006)

Here are the first 10 drives of this game: Northwestern turns it over on downs at the Miami 25, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, kneel. Then, on the first possession of the third quarter, Miami was set to punt again when NU blocked it. Erryn Cobb took it into the end zone to put up the first points of the game. Joking aside, it was also a really nice feel-good moment for the ‘Cats, who were playing their first game after Randy Walker passed away. It probably shouldn’t have been this close against a Miami team that would finish 2-10 for its first losing season since 1993.

15. Air Force 52, Northwestern 3 (2002)

As expected, Air Force didn’t do a ton through the air: Falcons QB Chance Harridge went 5-for-7 with just 47 yards and a touchdown. The ground game, though? Different story: 74 carries, 471 yards, five touchdowns. No one on Air Force accumulated over 100 yards, and no one rushed more than 20 times, but 16 different Falcons got carries. The only reason this didn’t make the top 10 was because that Air Force team, at 8-5, was actually pretty good.

14. Northwestern 14, Eastern Michigan 6 (2006)

No player threw for 100 yards! There were 17 total punts! Northwestern won by eight points against a 1-11 team that only surrendered fewer points in 2006 just once! EMU, then coached by current Northwestern special teams coordinator Jeff Genyk, had its two quarterbacks combine for 9-for-25 passing, 47 yards, two interceptions and QBRs of 2.6 and 10.7. Mike Kafka wasn’t awful and scored a touchdown on the ground, but he also wasn’t leaps and bounds better through the air.

Andrew Brewer, then a redshirt freshman who would eventually convert to wide receiver, was the only gunslinger to have moderate success. Brewer went 6-for-8 as a passer, but even he wasn’t immune to the craziness of this game; he lost a fumble.

13. Nevada 31, Northwestern 21 (2006)

The 2006 team just found itself in these types of games often, and this doesn’t even take into account its blown 38-3 lead against Michigan State that broke a record. Anyway, Northwestern started the game off with a nice 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Seems like a normal game, right? Wrong. The Wildcats turned it over on each of their next three possessions, with Tyrell Sutton fumbling and Kafka sandwiching that mistake with two picks. Nevada scored off every giveaway, and turned them into 17 points before the first quarter had even ended.

NU recorded an INT of its own in the second quarter, but Joel Howells missed a 39-yard field goal. The Wolfpack followed that up with a missed kick of their own from 42 yards out on the very next drive. Somehow, that still wasn’t enough special teams chaos, as Nevada blocked a 32-yard try from Howells in the third quarter. How’d it answer? With a punt, of course, which went 69 yards to the NU 6. The exclamation point came when Kafka threw an interception with about two minutes to go inside his own 25, which was returned the other way for the game-clinching score.

Tier Two: The Outer Pantheon

12. Northwestern 38, Northern Illinois 37 (2005)

This game is where I think my subjectivity factors in the most. Was this chaotic and entertaining? Of course, maybe more than any other game on this list. But it was pretty exciting, it was definitely watchable and it was good football between two teams that would each win seven games that year. The Huskies and ‘Cats eclipsed 1,000 yards of total offense combined in a shootout.

NIU blocking a 30-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, which came after both teams traded turnovers on the prior two possessions, was a sign of things to come. Marquice Cole returned a punt 81 yards to the end zone just six minutes later. While Northwestern held a 24-14 lead going into halftime, it was far from over. For the final 27 minutes and change of this contest, there were zero punts. Scores came on six of the final seven drives, with the one exception being Northern Illinois’ goal-line stand after Wildcat Ryan Pederson couldn’t break the plane on a fourth-and-goal.

The end of the game was really what made this stand out, though. With 1:15 to go and the game tied at 31, Northwestern faced a third-and-4 in the red zone. A holding penalty set the ‘Cats up at the 5-yard line. NIU only had two timeouts, so Randy Walker’s team could just burn some clock to ensure the Huskies wouldn’t have enough time to put together a drive. That didn’t happen, as Tyrell Sutton scored on first down. Northern Illinois needed just 51 seconds to march 71 yards into the end zone. Inexplicably, Northwestern sent a seven-man blitz on the 11-yard touchdown pass to Sam Hurd. NIU went for two, looking to win the game right there, but couldn’t connect on a fade.

The rushing numbers were outrageous: Sutton and Northern Illinois lead back Garrett Wolfe combined for 64 carries, 459 yards and seven touchdowns. That is prime mid-2000s football.

11. Southern Illinois 31, Northwestern 24 (2022)

Just a painful experience for everyone involved. The moment Bryce Gallagher was left on an island with SIU’s tight end on a 57-yard touchdown, people had a feeling that the day could take a rough turn. There was a four-minute stretch in the second quarter where three interceptions were thrown. The Salukis snagged the last one in Northwestern territory and had an opportunity for a 32-yard field goal to take a 17-14 lead going into halftime, but it was blocked. And that wasn’t even their first missed field goal of the half!

The fun wouldn’t stop there, as Northwestern fumbled twice in the second half. The first was from Evan Hull, who gave the ball away in SIU territory just seven days after his goal-line fumble against Duke. The second came on a strip sack of Ryan Hilinski deep in Northwestern territory, essentially giving the Salukis a free red zone trip (which they cashed in). Four turnovers against an FCS opponent is, to put it lightly, not great.

10. Army 21, Northwestern 14 (2011)

This one is just dumbfounding by looking at the box score. Army quarterback Trent Steelman threw one completion on seven attempts for a grand total of six yards. The issue was that the Black Knights ran triple option more than a 10-year old spams Four Verticals on Madden. Army rushed for 381 yards on 75 runs, and Steelman scored every touchdown. The kickers missed all three of their field goals — two of which were within 30 yards. Northwestern had a chance to score after recovering a fumble at Army’s 30-yard line, only for the offensive line to surrender a five-yard sack of Kain Colter. That drive ended with Pat Fitzgerald taking a delay of game from Army’s 35-yard line to give Brandon Williams room to punt.

9. Northwestern 27, Eastern Michigan 24 (2009)

Everything seemed perfectly normal when Northwestern linebacker Ben Johnson returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown to put the ‘Cats up 21-0 early in the second quarter. Surely, there was no way that an Eastern Michigan team that would finish the season 0-12 and go 2-for-10 on third downs that day could comeback. Not against an eight-win NU team that went on to win against No. 17 Wisconsin and at No. 8 Iowa.

Anything is possible at Ryan Field. Down 21-3, EMU came out of halftime with an 88-yard touchdown drive that was extended thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a third down play. Northwestern knocked a field goal through to bring the lead back to 14, but later muffed a punt. Eastern Michigan put up a touchdown, and then picked off Kafka after he had gotten to the edge of the red zone. The Eagles scored, tying the game.

While Stefan Demos kicked a 49-yarder to bail the ‘Cats out, which is crazy enough, NU couldn’t even execute that drive normally. NU got to the EMU 25 with about a minute to go, seemingly in control to win the game on a short kick. On cue, back-to-back holding and offensive pass interference penalties forced Northwestern into a first-and-35 from midfield. Mercifully, Kafka got the ‘Cats to the 32-yard line to set up Demos.

8. Hawaii 49, Northwestern 41 (2004)

Where to even begin? A good place is the start time. This took place the weekend after Thanksgiving in Honolulu, at night. So, the ‘Cats kicked off at 11 p.m. CT a week after playing Illinois at 11 a.m. Yet, it was the Rainbow Warriors who were sluggish to start, as quarterback Timmy Chang threw two interceptions on his first two drives. Northwestern jumped out to a 20-7 lead, scoring six of those points when Brett Basanez scooped up and advanced a goal-line fumble from Noah Herron. The tailback appeared to simply drop the ball after running into the line, but Basanez delivered.

Before Northwestern could even blink, though, Hawaii put up 21 unanswered points. Chang connected with Chad Owens for 40 and 35-yard scores before halftime to seize control. In the third quarter, Owens would come up with a play longer than both of those touchdowns combined, as he returned a punt 76 yards to the end zone.

After the teams traded scores, NU came up with a big special teams moment of its own. Down 49-33, Northwestern blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown, and converted the two-point try to cut it to a one-score game. When the Rainbow Warriors missed a 33-yard field goal, all signs seemed to indicate a Northwestern comeback. Basanez got close, but then badly overthrew his receiver on a short pass from the Hawaii 20 for a game-ending interception. There were over 1,000 yards of offense, Owens scored five total touchdowns and the result knocked the Wildcats out of a bowl appearance that year.

7. Northwestern 16, Ohio 8 (2008)

This legendary game featured 10 total turnovers. If that wasn’t enough, Northwestern also blocked two field goals for good measure. C.J. Bacher threw four interceptions for a QBR of 8.0 on the day, and Ohio ran for just four total yards. Still, the Bobcats somehow took six trips inside the Northwestern 25. Here are the results: missed field goal, end zone interception, blocked kick, touchdown, blocked kick, fumble. Had the last fumble not happened, an eventual 9-4 Northwestern team could have faced overtime against a 4-8 team from the bottom of the MAC.

Tier One: Bedlam, Illinois

6. Air Force 22, Northwestern 21 (2003)

Air Force’s leading passer(s) threw for 51 yards, and still might have played better than Basanez. A Falcons fumble recovered by Tim McGarigle at midfield with about eight minutes to go and Northwestern up 21-13 seemed to put the ‘Cats in good position to win. Plus, Air Force didn’t have its starting QB and option threat, Chance Harridge, in the game. He was ejected in the third quarter after getting stripped and proceeding to punch a Northwestern player.

Chances looked even better when Jason Wright and Ashton Aikens rushed for gains of six and 15. That was when Basanez threw his second interception of the game, which was returned for a 79-yard pick six. However, Air Force couldn’t convert the two-point conversion, giving Northwestern the ball back with the lead and 5:49 to go. Didn’t matter. Basanez threw another INT that set the Falcons up at the NU 11. They kicked a field goal to take the lead, giving Northwestern one last real shot to win with two minutes to go. The result? Yet another interception. This Air Force team won seven games, which keeps this from being higher on the list, but three interceptions on consecutive drives is a sight to behold.

5. Northwestern 49, Navy 40 (2002)

At this point, Navy had passed and ran for 300 yards in the same game once in the last 54 years. Of course, this became No. 2, as the Wildcats surrendered 678 total yards. The Midshipmen embarrassed Northwestern with the option, but the ‘Cats also exploded on offense. There were 12 total touchdowns, 10 of which came on drives of less than three minutes. That gave Navy enough possessions to turn the ball over five times (fumbling four times) while also putting up 40 points. It held the ball for 21 minutes in the second half. Northwestern linebacker Doug Szymul totaled 26 tackles! Everywhere you look across the box score, something weird happened.

This was exactly how a game between a Navy team that would go 2-10 and a Wildcats team that went 3-9 should look. Both teams averaged 24 and 22 points, respectively, but happened to both explode against each other. Northwestern sealed the game with an interception in the end zone, as Navy was trying to cut an 11-point game to one score.

4. Bowling Green 43, Northwestern 42 (2001)

The Daily Northwestern reported that “the vast majority of the Northwestern community” opted not to attend this late November game which featured “the smallest Ryan Field crowd of the year.” For that to be noticeable among Northwestern students speaks volumes. Well, they missed a lot. There were over 1,200 yards of offense in this one!

The first great sequence in this game came on a set of three drives with Northwestern up 21-7 in the second quarter. NU QB Zak Kustok got tackled on his first play from the Wildcats’ 44-yard line for a loss of eight, then threw an interception on the next play. Bowling Green followed it up with a drive that ended at Northwestern’s 14 with a fumble, and NU responded with a turnover on downs in no man’s land after reaching Bowling Green territory.

But the fun really began in the fourth quarter. An 80-yard touchdown pass and another long TD drive put the ‘Cats up 42-28 with 3:44 to go. If it hasn’t been hammered into everyone by now, though, nothing is guaranteed. The Falcons marched down the field for a touchdown. Northwestern appeared to have the game wrapped up with a drive into Bowling Green territory, and running back Torri Stuckey looked like he had sealed the game as he crossed the 25-yard-line with a game-clinching first down.

He fumbled. Bowling Green drove 78 yards in 59 seconds. Urban Meyer, who coached the team at the time (as if this couldn’t get any funnier), opted to go for two and the win. Randy Walker apparently didn’t get the memo, as he initially sent out his special teams unit on the game’s biggest play. Northwestern, of course, had used its last timeout earlier because a defensive lineman needed to catch his breath, which turned everything into pure chaos. Ten players were on the field, and Bowling Green took advantage of a wide open spot where the outside linebacker should have been to walk in for the easy conversion. It was an 8-3 Bowling Green team, so it wasn’t the worst opponent to lose to, but that’s quite the way to do it.

3. Western Michigan 22, Northwestern 21 (2016)

If this picture doesn’t tell you how strange and disturbing this game was, I don’t know what does. What in the Chris Collins is this?

Western Michigan held possession against a Big Ten team with Justin Jackson for 39 minutes. This was back-and-forth throughout the afternoon, with the Broncos taking the lead on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with a little under six minutes to go. Clayton Thorson responded with a drive that set the ‘Cats up at WMU’s 6-yard line. In a matter of minutes, ESPN’s win probability had swung from giving Western Michigan a 76.5% chance of winning to the Wildcats sitting at 88%. Any points would do. Anything.

Thorson took a snap, dropped back and scrambled off tackle toward an open goal line. That’s when Robert Spillane came out of nowhere and forced a fumble. The ball rolled into the end zone, headed for the sideline, when a Western Michigan player inexplicably tried to scoop up and throw the ball back inbounds, which NU appeared to recover for what would have been a touchdown. The officials ruled that the player and/or the ball was out of bounds, though, which saved Western Michigan. It ran out the clock, and won its first game en route to a 13-1 season that earned Fleck the Minnesota coaching job.

2. Akron 39, Northwestern 34 (2018)

Northwestern had 29 first downs, Akron had 15. NU gained over 100 more yards than Akron. The Zips had 15 penalties, and the ‘Cats took a 21-3 lead at the half. Northwestern lost this game.

After a field goal and a punt to open the third quarter, the second half featured five straight drives that ended in touchdowns. The second one looked like it’d belong to Northwestern, but that’s when Thorson threw a 97-yard pick six to Akron’s Alvin Davis, which cut NU’s lead to 21-19. The two teams traded a few scores, which brought the game to 28-26 in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Then, two crushing drives wrapped the game up: Akron returned a fumble 19 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, only for Thorson to throw another pick six to Davis on the very next possession. Northwestern couldn’t convert a fourth-and-1 from midfield, and that basically sealed it. It’s still insane how a team that won the Holiday Bowl the same year managed to lose this game to a 4-8 MAC team.

1. Illinois State 9, Northwestern 7 (2016)

Just look at the score, look at the opponent, look this game up and tell me it isn’t first.