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Top 10 Most Inexcusable Losses Of The Pat Fitzgerald Era

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Pat Fitzgerald has had success at NU, but also led some inexplicable losses. Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images.
Pat Fitzgerald has had success at NU, but also led some inexplicable losses. Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images.

Last Saturday's ridiculous loss to Minnesota got me thinking. What are the most inexcusable losses of the Pat Fitzgerald era? There seem to be a lot of them! Here are the Top 10.

10. October 19, 2013: 20-17 Loss To Minnesota

Were They Good?: Minnesota is now 5-2 but will need to beat Indiana or PSU to become bowl eligible because they aren’t beating Nebraska, Wisconsin and MSU. The Golden Gophers already lost to Iowa and Michigan. Its non-conference wins were against UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois and San Jose State.

Embarrassment Level: Last Saturday’s defeat is still TBD when it comes to how inexcusable it will be at the end of the year. Maybe Minnesota is really good. They are 5-2 as of this writing. Then again, probably not. Northwestern did not show up for this game on offense. Embarrassing. 

9. September 26, 2009: 35-24 Loss To Minnesota

Were They Good?: Minnesota went 6-7. This was one of two road wins. The other: Syracuse. Minnesota did make a bowl at 6-6 but didn’t beat any ranked teams.

Embarrassment Level: This is the only inexcusable loss that features a bowl team as Minnesota finished 6-6 in the regular season and made the Whatever.com Bowl. Make no mistake: This was a bad Minnesota squad that featured Eric Decker and no one else.

Looking at the box score, it’s hard to figure out how Northwestern lost this game, but they did. Part of the problem was they couldn’t get the ball back in the fourth quarter as they only possessed it for two minutes and 42 seconds. A 24-21 lead turned into a 35-24 defeat. Fourth-quarter collapses seem to be a staple of NU in recent years.

8. November 3, 2007: 28-17 Loss To Iowa

Were They Good?: Iowa finished 6-6.

Embarrassment Level: Jake Christensen somehow completed 21 wobbly passes for 299 yards and a touchdown as a mediocre Iowa team beat a mediocre Northwestern team. What makes this loss so inexcusable was the way NU handed Iowa the game in the fourth quarter. C.J. Bacher threw two picks and NU apparently forgot Tyrell Sutton existed as a 17-14 lead turned into a 28-17 defeat.

7. September 19, 2009: 37-34 Loss At Syracuse

Were They Good?: Syracuse finished 4-8 and 1-6 in the Big East.

Embarrassment Level: Mike Williams currently plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carrier Dome is a tough place to play because they apparently hate air conditioning in upstate New York. That said, Greg Paulus was the ‘Cuse quarterback. GREG PAULUS! Inexcusable. Plus, Northwestern wasted a performance from Mike Kafka, who threw for three touchdowns, ran for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass.

6. September 9, 2006: 34-17 Loss To New Hampshire

Were They Good?: New Hampshire finished 9-4 in the FCS.

Embarrassment Level: Any loss to an FCS program is bad, but NU didn’t just lose this game, they lost by 17 points. NU gets a slight pass only because this was the second game of the Fitzgerald era and New Hampshire makes a habit of beating FBS programs.

5. October 9, 2010: 20-17 Loss To Purdue

Were They Good?: Purdue finished 4-8 and virtually no offensive starters played for the Boilermakers in this game.

Embarrassment Level: This is the most inexcusable Big Ten loss of the Fitzgerald era not involving the Hoosiers. The Wildcats were 5-0 for the second time in the last three years and riding high behind star quarterback Dan Persa. A banged-up Purdue team led by Rob Henry (yes, that Rob Henry) somehow managed to win despite being outgained in the contest by more than 100 yards. Henry ran for 132 yards running the same play all day long and NU suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of an already bad Boilermakers squad that was missing its starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

4. September 17, 2011, 21-14 Loss At Army

Were They Good?: Army went 3-9. Its other wins came against Tulane and Fordham.

Embarrassment Level: Losing to Army is something that should never happen to any BCS conference program. This defeat sent Northwestern into a tailspin as they dropped five straight games. Army completed a total of one pass. Instead, quarterback Trent Steelman did the damage with his legs, running for 108 yards and three touchdowns. Army piled up 381 rushing yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

The NU defense only gave up 21 points. It was the offense’s total lack of production against a bad Army squad that makes this loss so inexcusable.

3. October 25, 2008: 21-19 Loss At Indiana

Were They Good?: Indiana finished 3-9. This was its only Big Ten win (1-7).

Embarrassment Level: The 2008 Northwestern Wildcats were easily the second-best team of the Fitzgerald era. They went 9-3 in the regular season and took a great Missouri team led by Jeremy Maclin to OT in the Alamo Bowl. Indiana was terrible. It finished the season 3-9 and 1-7 in the Big Ten. Of course, its lone victory came over Northwestern.

This game featured Kafka coming in off the bench and throwing the ball backwards in the final minutes (technically, a fumble). The only reason this isn’t at the top of the list for inexcusable losses is because Tyrell Sutton and C.J. Bacher, the team’s starting running back and quarterback respectively, both got hurt. Plus, it was a road game and Tandon Doss (107 receiving yards and a touchdown) is now contributing in the NFL. That loss was awful though. Truly inexplicable.  

2. September 15, 2007: 20-14 Loss To Duke

Were They Good?: Duke went 1-11.

Embarrassment Level: Duke quarterback Thad Lewis now is starting in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills. That’s the only redeeming quality of this game. NU was 2-0 entering the game and Duke (22 straight losses) was on its way to topping Northwestern‘s record for most consecutive losses in NCAA history (34). That never happened because Duke defeated Northwestern and Fitzgerald took points off the board after a made field goal. Duke did not win another game that season.

1. October 21, 2006: 41-38 Loss To Michigan State

Were They Good?: MSU finished 4-8 just like NU and was 1-7 in the Big Ten; NU finished 2-6 in the Big Ten.

Embarrassment Level: NU led 38-3.When it comes to inexcusable losses, it’s hard to top the biggest collapse in FBS history. I know Northwestern was 4-8 that season, but so was MSU. MSU’s only Big Ten win? This game.

Here’s the most unbelievable scoring summary in the history of college football.

1st 10:07 MSU - Swenson, Brett 32 yd field goal

11 plays, 66 yards, TOP 4:53, MSU 3 - NU 0

05:17 NU - Lane, Ross 5 yd pass from Bacher, C.J. (Howells, Joel kick)

14 plays, 71 yards, TOP 4:50, MSU 3 - NU 7

2nd 14:27 NU - Bacher, C.J. 2 yd run (Howells, Joel kick)

7 plays, 74 yards, TOP 2:25, MSU 3 - NU 14

10:57 NU - Howells, Joel 30 yd field goal

6 plays, 43 yards, TOP 2:16, MSU 3 - NU 17

04:17 NU - Herbert, Shaun 18 yd pass from Roberson, Brandon (Howells, Joel kick)

7 plays, 88 yards, TOP 3:00, MSU 3 - NU 24

3rd 11:39 NU - Lane, Ross 22 yd pass from Bacher, C.J. (Howells, Joel kick)

5 plays, 80 yards, TOP 3:21, MSU 3 - NU 31

09:54 NU - Herbert, Shaun 5 yd pass from Bacher, C.J. (Howells, Joel kick)

2 plays, 10 yards, TOP 1:09, MSU 3 - NU 38

07:03 MSU - Caulcrick, Jehuu 18 yd pass from Stanton, Drew (Swenson, Brett kick)

9 plays, 65 yards, TOP 2:51, MSU 10 - NU 38

02:47 MSU - Jimmerson, A.J. 4 yd run (Swenson, Brett kick)

8 plays, 53 yards, TOP 2:13, MSU 17 - NU 38

4th 11:22 MSU - Henderson, Ashton 33 yd blocked punt return (Swenson, Brett kick)

MSU 24 - NU 38

07:54 MSU - Stanton, Drew 12 yd run (Swenson, Brett kick)

7 plays, 60 yards, TOP 1:55, MSU 31 - NU 38

03:43 MSU - Williams, T.J. 9 yd pass from Stanton, Drew (Swenson, Brett kick)

6 plays, 58 yards, TOP 2:05, MSU 38 - NU 38

00:13 MSU - Swenson, Brett 28 yd field goal

7 plays, 19 yards, TOP 2:46, MSU 41 - NU 38

Yeah, that happened.