An important challenge awaits the Northwestern Wildcats. New Year's Day marks the opportunity for the program to end its 64-year bowl skid and for its winningest-ever senior class to end their collegiate careers with one last win.
With so much at stake, what is on the mind of the team?
"Right now, they're looking forward to having fun," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
After a long regular season, that's the perfect medicine for Northwestern. A productive Saturday practice ended with offensive linemen being spun in circles, then running through a gauntlet of teammates while attempting to catch footballs darted at a high velocity.
In the two weeks following Northwestern's regular-season finale, Wildcat players held light workouts and spent little time studying up on Gator Bowl opponent Mississippi State. For the most part, the fortnight was used for rest and relaxation.
"I've tried to stay away from football as much as I can," quarterback Kain Colter said. "I feel everyone needs a break. It's along season and can wear on you. I tried to get a little time away and then come back strong."
Any football player will tell you there's no such thing as '100-percent health' after marching through the schedule. Northwestern's starters get some needed time to recuperate before bowl practices shift to game preparations.
"The last couple weeks, we've been getting our bodies back," said senior guard Brian Mulroe, who started each game this season. "That's been really helpful for the guys that have played a lot of reps each game."
While many Wildcats' bodies may be feeling better, their minds are being warped. It's exams week at Northwestern, leading to all-nighters at the library. After that, football becomes a priority.
"We needed this time to relax and get our bodies back, but also stay in shape," explained Colter.
Once exams are completed, Northwestern will hold its own "bowl week" at home, with festivities including a team trip to Dave & Busters and a Bulls game. The Wildcats will then travel home for the holidays before departing to Jacksonville.
While the Wildcats' focus isn't yet aimed toward the Gator Bowl, earning a victory remains the common goal.
"The one thing that matters is win," said Colter. "We really want to leave this legacy strong as being one of the best teams Northwestern has ever had, and finally get that monkey off our backs."
Northwestern will be refreshed and ready for the bowl game after some quality time with both teammates and family.
"We'll do everything we can do," said Fitzgerald, " to have a great game plan, have the bugs ironed out, have the guys understand what we're doing, play fast, be ready for January 1st, and peak at the right time."