Running back
Damien Anderson




Photos by Stephen J. Carrera for Athletics Media Services




Picked to finish last in the Big Ten this year, the Wildcat football team confounded the experts by tying Purdue and Michigan for the conference championship. The Wildcats featured a hurry-up offense that set new scoring records while providing a season of thrilling games.

The contests included two won on the last play of the game, successive road victories against nationally ranked Big Ten opponents, a 61-23 pasting of Illinois to clinch the title and a heart-stopping 54-51 win against Michigan in what some have already called "the greatest college football game ever played."

Big Ten Champs!
2000 Season Record
8-3 overall
6-2 conference

Northwestern 35 Northern Illinois 17
Northwestern 38 Duke 5
Texas Christian 41 Northwestern 14
Northwestern 47 Wisconsin 44
Northwestern 37 Michigan State 17
Northwestern 52 Indiana 33
Purdue 41 Northwestern 28
Northwestern 41 Minnesota 35
Northwestern 54 Michigan 51
Iowa 27 Northwestern 17
Northwestern 61 Illinois 23

The victory over 12th-ranked Michigan at Ryan Field came when junior wide receiver Sam Simmons caught an 11-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left. With 1:38 left in the game and the Wolverines holding a 51-46 lead, Michigan had gotten the ball back when a Northwestern drive stalled at their opponents' 12 yard line. But Michigan's star running back, Anthony Thomas, who rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns, fumbled the ball to give the Wildcats the game-winning opportunity.

The two teams combined for an incredible 1,189 total yards and 105 points, a new school record. Zak Kustok, the Wildcats' junior quarterback, threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for two more, while Michigan's Drew Henson threw four touchdown passes. After the game thousands of ecstatic fans stormed onto the field and celebrated in the Northwestern end zone.

"The whole second half, we felt every time we got the ball, we were going to have to score," Kustok told the Daily Northwestern.

Kustok and running back Damien Anderson ignited the Wildcats this year after head coach Randy Walker installed a new no-huddle offense. Using as many as five receivers and only one running back at times, the Wildcats set new team records for points scored in a season (424), points per game (38.5), average yards per game (475.6) and more than a dozen others.

Throughout the season Walker's theme was "trust." He preached it early and he preached it often to his players: Trust the system and what your coaches were coaching. Trust what your teammates could do around you. But as much as anything, trust yourself.

Anderson, a junior, was named the team's most valuable player after shattering most of the school rushing records, including season rushing (1,914 yards), touchdowns (22) and yards per carry (6.5). He carried the ball 293 times without a fumble. In addition, Anderson gained more than 200 yards four times this year and tied the record held by Mike Adamle (S71) and Darnell Autry (S97) for touchdowns in a single game when he rushed for four TDs against Indiana.

In addition to MVP honors, Anderson was a unanimous first-team all-Big-Ten selection and was named to several All-American teams. Kustok, meanwhile, set team records for rushing by a quarterback (450 yards), touchdowns by passing (18), total offense (2,701 yards) and consecutive games in a season throwing a TD (11). He tied a record dating back to 1943 for rushing TDs by a quarterback (9) held by the legendary Otto Graham (SESP44).

Walker was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in just his second season with Northwestern.

The Wildcats began their season with wins over Northern Illinois and Duke before stumbling against Texas Christian, then ranked in the top 20. But the win against Wisconsin, then ranked seventh, and a convincing victory over 18th-ranked Michigan State, both on the road, proved the Wildcats were for real.

Disappointing losses against Purdue at home and Iowa on the road marred the team's Big Ten record. Nevertheless, the exciting win against Michigan and a last-minute victory in Minnesota provided fans with plenty of entertainment.

As momentum built over the season, attendance grew steadily at Ryan Field, with the Michigan game attracting the first sellout crowd in two years.

A share of the Big Ten title led to an invitation to the Alamo Bowl, where the Wildcats faced Nebraska. Unfortunately, they lost that game 66-17.

Alan K. Cubbage (GJ78, 87) is Northwestern's vice president for university relations.