For Northwestern, it's finally time

Not since 1949 has Northwestern had a team better equipped to win a bowl game. This year's Wildcat squad has superior talent to its bowl opponent, Mississippi State. This could and should be the year Northwestern snaps is bowl-victory drought.

One can sense the frustration Pat Fitzgerald feels each time a reporter asks about Northwestern's bowl-victory drought. He has been a part of four defeats as the program's head coach, two while serving as linebackers coach, and two as an All-American linebacker.

Bowl berths are now expected for Northwestern, not celebrated. The seventh-year head coach can be credited for the culture change. However, he carries the burden of bringing the program its first postseason triumph since 1949.

Plenty has changed for Northwestern football since Fitzgerald first stepped onto campus as a freshman. The Wildcats are no longer the Big Ten's bottom-dweller, fan support continues to increase, and a plan for athletic facilities upgrades is in place. Still, one ghost from the past haunts Northwestern.

To Fitzgerald's credit, he remains collected and confident each time he's asked: is this the year? This time, his firmness is justified.

Not since 1949 has Northwestern had a team better equipped to end the 64-year drought. Under Fitzgerald, NU's level of talent has risen each season, with this year's squad being the program's best since 1995. The Wildcats are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before.

In overtime losses to Missouri and Auburn in 2008 and 2009, Northwestern battled with heart, matching top talent. Two inspired comeback attempts against Texas Tech and Texas A&M in proceeding bowl appearances continued to showcase the program's character—fighting until the final whistle to end its infamous skid. But the Cats were underdogs. They weren't supposed to win.

Fitzgerald painted a familiar picture before the Wildcats' bowl itinerary was set.

"We're going to play a great team," he joked after the Illinois game. "We're going to play on the road, we're going to play in Florida somewhere, we're going to play an SEC team in their backyard and we're going to be the underdog by 75 points. Nothing is new, bowl season for the 'Cats."

The joking from Fitzgerald felt a bit uncomfortable when a matchup with Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, or Texas A&M appeared realistic. Instead, late politicking by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany dropped Northwestern to a Gator Bowl matchup with Mississippi State, saving face for his conference's rough campaign.

Instead of being heavy underdogs, the Wildcats are favorites. And they should get that elusive win.

Northwestern is the superior team in this bowl—something that has never been the case under Fitzgerald, Randy Walker, or even Gary Barnett. The Wildcats' spread offense is well prepared after weeks of preparation, while the defense is ready for the Bulldogs' attack.

Monday afternoon brings the Gator Bowl press conference in Jacksonville, in which Fitzgerald will meet the media for the final time before his Wildcats take the field. Surely, the coach will be ready for the obligatory question—one he has answered many times before. He'll smile and politely explain why Northwestern will win. You can't blame him for feeling confident.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats. He resides on Chicago's north side.
Facebook | Twitter| E-Mail |

SpartanDigest.com Recommended Stories


  • Peyton Manning emerged alone atop yet another category in the NFL record book tonight vs the Niners, as he tossed touchdown #509 under the national spotlight of Sunday Night Football (NBC). (Photo…

  • Former USC and NFL running back LenDale White added tons of drama to what was a relatively quiet Homecoming weekend for the Trojans.

  • Here’s a way to watch football and improve your golf swing at the same time. In your living room (or on the range), practice the one-minute golf swing, as shown in this video. Set the timer on your…

  • Dr. Roto, like many others, can't believe Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (pictured above) passed for over 300 yards and rushed for over 100 yards in the same game. First time that's ever happened…

  • As soon as those winds fall off, get into the stand! I always tell people you can't kill them if you aren't out, but if you want to try and pick an opportune time – this is it.

Up Next


Tweets