On the last day of 2013, we look back at Northwestern's best games of this largely forgettable year.
Yes, 2013 began with a historic bowl win and ended with a Big Ten football victory over archrival Illinois. In between, however, there were a lot of losses.
'13 proved to be an unlucky number for Northwestern in football and basketball. Combined, the two programs went 9-22 (.290) during the calendar year, including a brutal 5-22 (.185) in Big Ten play.
Still, we will remember these five contests fondly as we look toward 2014.
1. The Gator Bowl: The peak of 2013 was the first day of the year. Sixty-three straight years without a postseason victory ended on New Year's Day with a 34-20 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who were favored coming in. It also gave the Wildcats their second 10-win season in program history and removed the last stain on the NU program's reputation. Bulldog quarterback Tyler Russell, who had just six interceptions in 12 regular season games, was picked off four times by the Northwestern defense. Pat Fitzgerald earned his first bowl victory as head coach while becoming Northwestern's all-time wins leader. There was nothing more cathartic for Northwestern fans than watching the Wildcats take a knee to kill the clock at EverBank Field.
2. The GameDay loss: It will possibly go down as the most fondly remembered loss in Northwestern history, maybe because the No. 14 Wildcats' 40-30 loss to No. 3 Ohio State was only a fraction of the entertainment. Students were up in the wee hours of the morning to create one of the best ESPN College GameDay atmospheres of the year, then moved the party to Ryan Field, where they filled up the student section nearly an hour before kickoff. Despite stalling in the red zone several times, the 'Cats held a 23-13 lead early in the third quarter. But the Buckeyes came storming back, and a failed QB sneak on fourth down by Kain Colter sealed Northwestern's fate and began an epic collapse through Big Ten play.
3. Cats stun Minnesota: If Northwestern takes down a Top 25 team and no one is there to see it, did it really happen? The Cats scored an emphatic 55-48 win over No. 12 Minnesota, their second straight over a ranked team, despite the fact that few fans made the trip to Welsh-Ryan Arena on a cold Wednesday night. The Golden Gophers dominated the boards and blocked eight shots, but Northwestern took care of the ball and shot just well enough to pull away in the end, as its 1-3-1 defense in the second half baffled the Gophers and helped hold them to 33 percent shooting for the game. NU was led by senior leaders Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire, who combined for 29 points and 13 rebounds.
4. Beating Illinois on the road: In a season of long offensive droughts and poor shooting numbers, this game stood out. For the second year in a row, coach Bill Carmody's team traveled to Champaign and took down the Fighting Illini, who were ranked 22nd in the country at this point. The Cats rolled to a 36-21 halftime lead due in large part to 5-for-7 shooting from three-point range. They didn't let up after the break en route to a 68-54 final score. Five Wildcats scored in double figures, led by Hearn with 20. The victory ignited a heady stretch for Northwestern, which knocked off two ranked teams and gave No. 2 Indiana a late scare in a six-day period.
5. Offense goes off on Syracuse: Had Northwestern's 48-27 win over Syracuse been all you saw of the Orange in 2013, it would be hard to believe that they ended up a bowl winner. Fifty-one seconds into the game NU was already in the end zone, and by halftime it was 34-7. Colter and Trevor Siemian sliced up the Orange, going a combined 30-for-37 through the air for 375 yards and four touchdowns. The main target was Tony Jones, who went off for a career-high 185 yards. It was possibly Northwestern's best performance of the year and kept the "Prose Bowl" bragging rights in Evanston.