The Dominant History Between Penn State Football & Northwestern

For Penn State football, Northwestern isn’t usually a game that’s circled at the beginning of the season. The Nittany Lions have consistently dominated the Wildcats since joining the Big Ten in 1993.

No. 6 Penn State (4-0, 2-0 Big Ten) will travel to Evanston, Illinois, to face off against Northwestern (2-2, 1-1 Big Ten) for the 21st time in series history on Saturday.

Penn State holds a 15-5 all-time record against Northwestern and has won eight of its last 10 matchups. The Nittany Lions have dominated the conference matchup at home as much as they have on the road, going 8-2 in Beaver Stadium and 7-3 at Ryan Field.

The first matchup dates back to 1993, the first season in the Big Ten for the Nittany Lions. Then-No. 16 Penn State traveled to Evanston to face a struggling 2-8 Northwestern squad. The Nittany Lions dominated the whole game and won 43-21. Penn State went on to beat No. 6 Tennessee later that season in the Citrus Bowl and finished ranked No. 8.

Penn State won seven of its first eight matchups with the Wildcats, including a 49-0 rout over the Wildcats in 2002.

In 1996, the No. 11 Wildcats entered Happy Valley riding a 13-game conference winning streak. After being ranked as high as No. 3 earlier in the season, the Nittany Lions were struggling coming into the matchup.

Penn State throttled Northwestern 34-9 and finished the season with an 8-2 record. Despite the loss, the Wildcats still ended with a share of the Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions used this victory to get back on track and finish the season ranked No. 7 with a 38-15 Fiesta Bowl victory over Texas and a No. 1 preseason AP Poll ranking for the 1997 season.

Northwestern won back-to-back matchups for the first time in series history in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Penn State responded with its own longest win streak of five games spanning from 2005 to 2011, which the Wildcats once again answered with back-to-back victories in 2014 and 2015.

Since 2015, the Nittany Lions haven’t looked back. Their current win streak is two games, with two lopsided victories.

The latest matchup was in 2022 and the teams’ first since 2017. The game was sloppy and featured multiple turnovers from both teams. With consistent rainfall, it proved difficult to hold onto the football. The Wildcat defense forced five turnovers, and Penn State forced two.

The difference in the game was Penn State’s ability to capitalize off both turnovers with two touchdowns, while Northwestern’s offense couldn’t take advantage of the free possessions. The Nittany Lions eventually won the contest 17-7.

On paper, Saturday’s game looks like history will repeat itself. An undefeated Penn State squad will travel to Northwestern to take on a struggling Wildcat team. Penn State will try to continue its dominant history, and Northwestern will aim to rewrite its struggles.

The conference duel will kickoff at noon on Saturday, September 30, at Northwestern’s Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. Folks can tune in to the broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Brady Miller

Brady is a senior public relations major who originates from the cornfields of Schuylkill County, PA. He spends most of his time watching the Philadelphia Phillies blow leads and the New England Patriots struggle to score points. When not watching sports, Brady is most likely "studying" or with his friends. Follow him on Twitter @_bMiLL_32 to see mostly retweets of whatever is going through Marlon Humphrey's head, or you can email him at [email protected].

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