The Northwestern Wildcats football team represents Northwestern University located in Evanston, Illinois.The Wildcats are a member of the NCAA FBS Big Ten Conference and play their home games at Ryan Field in Evanston. The Wildcats are currently coached by Pat Fitzgerald.
Football made its debut at Northwestern University on February 22, 1876 during an exhibition game between NU students and the Chicago Football Club. Despite the fact that there was no organized league, there was a growing interest for football on Northwestern's campus. Until Northwestern's first intercollegiate game against Lake Forest in 1882, football was played entirely as an intramural sport. From 1882 to 1887, the team mostly practiced and did not play teams outside of NU. In 1891, with the popularity of football increasing, Sheppard Field—complete with a grandstand—was built at Northwestern and dedicated in 1892. Also in 1892, the university chose royal purple as the school's official color, and the team recorded its first significant win, beating Michigan 10–8. In 1896, along with six other schools, Northwestern became a charter member of the Western Conference, the predecessor of the Big Ten. NU's first conference season was a huge success, posting a 46–6 win against then-powerhouse University of Chicago and finished second to Wisconsin.
The Wildcats have won three Big Ten championships or co-championships since 1995, and have been "bowl eligible" (a status that requires at least a .500 regular-season record) in six out of the last seven seasons.
Northwestern consistently ranks among the national leaders in graduation rate among football teams, having received the AFCA Academic Achievement Award four times since 2002. The Wildcats play their home games at Ryan Field (formerly Dyche Stadium) in Evanston, Illinois, since 1926.