Following last year’s 47-33 loss against Illinois at home when the Wildcats squandered the chance to become bowl-eligible, the prospects for the 2015 season were uncertain. Our starting quarterback gradu- ated and went to the NFL draft, while the rest of the team did not appear ready to improve off after a 5-win season. However, the 2015 Wildcats have defied the odds and enjoyed unprecedented success. While the season is far from over and there are many goals left to achieve, here are some highlights from the games played so far:
5) October 3rd: #13 ranking following a shut- out win against Minnesota
Following Northwestern’s dominating 27-0 shutout against Minnesota to open up Big Ten play, the Wildcats rose to #13 in the AP Poll. Northwestern had not been ranked this high in the AP Poll since their exhilarating 54-51 win against Michigan in 2000. Sandwiched between Florida State and Ole Miss in the rankings, the Wildcats felt invincible. It was clear that the 2015 Wildcats were legitimate and that this season had the potential to be special.
4) September 19th: Solomon Vault’s kickoff return against Duke
Northwestern’s 19-10 victory against Duke — one of the highlights of the season — was in jeopardy until Solomon Vault’s kickoff return for a touchdown swung the momentum decisively in NU’s favor. At the time, the Wildcats were down 7-3 and were struggling to accomplish anything on offense. After Solomon returned the kickoff for a touchdown on the first play of the second half, Northwestern took a 9-7 lead and never trailed again. Following the game, Northwestern climbed to #17 in the Coaches Poll.
3) November 7th: Jack Mitchell’s kick to beat Penn State
Coming off a stretch where they had lost two out of three games in the conference, the Wildcats saw the match up against Penn State as incredibly important. While Northwestern appeared to be in control for the majority of the game, a sloppy second half on both sides of the ball allowed the Nittany Lions to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Finally, with nine seconds left, Jack Mitchell hit a 35-yard field goal to put North- western ahead for good. Despite missing an extra point and two field goals earlier in the game, Mitchell was able to come through in the clutch and provide the Wildcats with a much needed win.
2) September 5th: Beating Stanford
Coming into the 2015 football season, few fans knew what to expect from the Wildcats. While Northwestern displayed great potential in 2014 with wins against Notre Dame and Wisconsin, they ultimately finished 5-7 and failed to make a bowl game for the second straight year. Many fans thought that the opening game of the 2015 season against #21 Stanford would be a sure loss. However, a superb defensive effort combined with timely offensive success propelled the Wildcats to an upset win and a great start to the season. This win has gotten even more impressive as the season has continued, since Stanford has yet to lose another game and is now ranked #7 in the country.
1) October 24th: Clinching bowl eligibility against Nebraska
Northwestern’s 30-28 win against Nebraska pushed the Wildcats across the 6-win threshold required to attain bowl eligibility. While the game itself was hard-fought and often unspectacular, the Wildcats ultimately walked away with a win and in the process, dispelled any notion that this season would be a repeat of the painful 2013 campaign. Even though this team has greater aspirations than bowl eligibility, reaching the 6-win mark has proved difficult for Northwestern in recent years. With that goal already accomplished, the Wildcats are set to have many more great moments as they close out their 2015 season.