After decades of mediocrity, the 1995 Northwestern Wildcat football team returned to glory under the guidance of Coach Gary Barnett. The first hint that the team had a date with destiny was its 17 – 15 defeat of Notre Dame, the same year that the Fighting Irish would claim (but not get) a piece of the national championship. The 1995 squad went on to beat a strong Wisonsin Badger team, fresh from their own Rose Bowl trip, and everyone else in the Big Ten conference, including a surprising victory over the Michigan Wolverines, to share the conference title with the Ohio State University Buckeyes. The Wildcats, previously undefeated in post-season play (boasting a single victory in their only Rose Bowl game in 1949) took a disappointing defeat from the University of Southern California Trojans.
Coach Barnett coached the Wildcats to a repeat conference title in 1996, guiding the team to a Citrus Bowl appearance, and another loss against the University of Tennessee. This season proved two things: that the first season wasn’t a fluke, and that Coach Barnett might be able to find more lucrative employment elsewhere. Wildcats fans across the country got a sinking feeling as the ‘Cats proceeded to bomb during the next few years, while Barnett had several high-profile flirtations with other coaching opportunities, including Notre Dame, UCLA, and finally, the University of Colorado, which he accepted.
Almost overnight, the school hired Randy Walker, head coach from Miami of Ohio. Walker had proven himself as a coach at Miami, even pounding the Wildcats on occasion. His first year was disappointing, but in the 2000 season, the Wildcats did what almost no one dared dream possible – come back to win a share of the Big Ten title once again. As we approach the 2001 season, Walker has a team loaded with returning starters, a feared fast-paced offense, and all the potential in the world.
Barnett's Colorado team, by contrast, has floundered ever since he arrived there, and not a Wildcat has shed a tear for him.