Northwestern Football Season Recap

The 2022 Northwestern season was one to forget.

After a disappointing 3-9 campaign in 2021, there was hope the Wildcats would return to form and continue their success in even-numbered years. With trips to the Big Ten Conference Championships in 2018 and 2020 and a West division without a clear favorite, there was reason to be optimistic headed into the fall.

That initial optimism was quickly reinforced in Week 0 with Northwestern traveling to Dublin, Ireland to take on Nebraska to open the 2022 college football season. After falling behind 28-17, the ‘Cats rattled off 14 unanswered, with the help of some decisions by former Nebraska Head Coach Scott Frost that were questionable, to put it lightly. However, the 31-28 victory was not a sign of what followed, as it would be the only tally in the team’s win column for the rest of the season.

In the non-conference slate, Northwestern hosted Duke, Southern Illinois and Miami (OH) at Ryan Field on three consecutive Saturdays. Each game was a one possession loss that found new, creative ways to deliver heartbreak to the purple faithful. All of the early season positivity was dashed with back-to-back defeats at the hands of non-Power 5 schools Southern Illinois and Miami (OH) as the team dropped to 1-3. 

Conference play did not bring much more hope. The defense put up an admirable effort in Happy Valley holding a talented Penn State team to 17 points in a turnover-filled, messy slog of a game. On homecoming weekend, Wisconsin came to town — fresh off firing longtime coach Paul Chryst — and walloped Northwestern 42-7. The following weekend the team bounced back to test Maryland on the road, but it was not quite enough as the team was on the wrong end of yet another one-score game.

By this point, there was no saving the season, but there was still plenty of pride to play for. In the following five losses, to Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois, the offense failed to register double digits in four of the games, with the lone exception being a 13-point outing against Iowa. The defense was able to slow down eventual No. 2 pick C.J. Stroud in adverse weather conditions and kept the game close on the road against Purdue, the future Big Ten West champ, but overall, the team crawled to the finish line. Heading into the 2023 season, the team holds an 11-game losing streak (1-17 in the last 18) and has not recorded a win on American soil since October 2021. 

There are plenty of reasons for Northwestern’s lack of success in 2022. Due to a mix of shaky play and injuries, the quarterback position was a carousel all season long, with five different gunslingers attempting passes, to varying levels of success. At times, the playcalling felt predictable and stale without much threat of an aerial attack. Opposing defenses expected the run, and the ‘Cats still ran the rock, even against consistently loaded boxes.

Among the bright spots for the Wildcats was running back Evan Hull, who put together a career year of over 1,500 all-purpose yards, leading all Division I running backs in receptions and receiving yards. As a unit, the offensive line struggled at times, but left tackle Peter Skoronski was arguably the best in the nation, winning the Rimington-Pace Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year Award and becoming the first NU player to be unanimously named a First Team All-American.

Unfortunately for the outlook for the 2023 ‘Cats, both Hull and Skoronski will not be on this fall’s iteration of the team after both were drafted by NFL teams this April. Skoronski was taken in the first round (11th overall) by the Tennessee Titans while Hull was snagged on Day 3 by the Indianapolis Colts. Two of Northwestern’s best defensive pieces were also taken by NFL squads in Adetomiwa Adebawore (Colts) and Cameron Mitchell (Cleveland Browns). Even if the record did not indicate a strong team, Northwestern lost a lot of talent in the offseason.

In 2023, Pat Fitzgerald will return for his 18th season at the helm of the program. Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian also returns, but on the other side of the ball, David Braun comes in from perennial D-II powerhouse North Dakota State to run the defense. The team could look vastly different in 2023, but it feels like the program can only go up from here. It would be nearly impossible for that not to be the case.