Northwestern gained a dubious distinction Saturday as the Wildcats became the first Power Five school to lose against an FCS opponent this season. Northwestern fell 31-24 to Southern Illinois in an outcome that continued a remarkable fall for the Wildcats, which started the season with a 31-28 win over Nebraska as double-digit underdogs in Ireland during Week 0.
Since then, then Northwestern lost 31-23 at home to Duke as a 10-point favorite as the Blue Devils played their first road game under first-year coach Mike Elko following a 3-9 season in 2021. While that loss was somewhat understandable since it came against a fellow Power Five foe, Saturday defeat stood out for all the wrong reasons.
Southern Illinois started 0-2 this season, falling 64-29 to Incarnate Word and 34-31 to Southeast Missouri, but the Salukis were not intimidated against their in-state Big Ten foe.
Southern Illinois overcame an early 7-0 deficit to take a 31-17 lead with 5:09 left on a 1-yard touchdown run from quarterback Nic Baker. The junior completed 23 of 34 passes for 241 yards, three touchdowns and an interception to fuel the upset.
The win improved SIU to 2-7 all-time against Big Ten opponents. Its other victory came against Indiana in 2006 when current coach Nick Hill was the program's starting quarterback.
As for Northwestern, the loss sends the Wildcats back to the drawing board in a season that began with promise after a 3-9 campaign in 2021. Next week, Northwestern hosts Miami (Ohio), which led Cincinnati 17-7 at one point on Saturday before falling 38-17.
Southern Illinois was the sixth FCS team to beat an FBS opponent already this season. In 2021, three Power Five teams fell to FCS foes, including Arizona (vs. Northern Arizona), Florida State (vs. Jacksonville State), Vanderbilt (vs. East Tennessee State) and Washington (vs. Montana).