The Wildcats are still bowl-eligible, however, which gives them a chance to end their season on a positive note, and the opportunity to snap the program's 62-year bowl drought.
"We will coach our tails off in the next month," Fitzgerald said after the MSU game. "Those young guys that have been out there are going to come back out to practice their butts off. We're going to grind them up. When we find out who we're going to play, we're going to come up with a great game plan to send these seniors off as winners."
The Wildcats are near the bottom of a clustered Big Ten bowl pecking order, but a fourth consecutive bowl berth appears definite. Entering the final weekend of the regular season, Northwestern faces numerous bowl possibilities.
Northwestern brings a few distinguished characteristics which bowl officials will evaluate while making their selection.
• A national alumni base
• Exciting players
• A major media market
• Strong community outreach in the program
These are all things which bowl officials carefully consider. There are many factors which make Northwestern a strong consideration for each bowl. Let's look at the possibilities.
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas—Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX.
A winter vacation to Houston is given to the Big Ten's sixth-ranked team; however, the Penn State scandal may effect this bowl's selection. The Nittany Lions would be slotted in this bowl—assuming Michigan moves into a BCS bowl—but bowl officials have the right to reject the negative attention brought with the Penn State program.
Illinois would be the next option, but the Fighting Illini played at Reliant Stadium last season, and may even reject a bowl bid, due to the recent firing of Ron Zook. With no side-show in Evanston, the Wildcats may be a solid selection for a trip to Houston.
However, if Michigan misses out on a trip to a BCS Bowl, then each Big Ten team drops down a slot, likely moving Ohio State into the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
TicketCity Bowl—Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX.
Northwestern and Texas Tech played in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl at the Cotton Bowl, which likely leaves the Wildcats out of the TicketCity Bowl's plans. A new bowl looking to expand its brand would not be probable to pick a program for the second consecutive season.
However, that decision is up to the bowl officials in Dallas. If they see Northwestern as a great draw again, they may pick the Wildcats.
Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl—Ford Field, Detroit, MI.
A trip to Detroit appears most likely for the Wildcats. Assuming Michigan reaches a BCS Bowl berth, then Northwestern slides into the Big Ten's eighth-place slot, and will play against the Mid-American Conference's second-place team.
Northwestern offers many characteristics which make it a strong choice for the Pizza Bowl officials. It would allow a short drive up I-94 for Wildcat fans in Evanston, and the program's Midwestern fan base would have a convenient trip.
If Northwestern were to play Northern Illinois (who will have its bowl fate decided in the MAC title game), then an exciting in-state battle presents itself.
There are still many dominoes in play, but a Pizza Bowl berth appears very likely.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl—San Francisco, CA
The Fight Hunger Bowl remains an outside possibility for Northwestern. This bowl is setup to seed the Pac-12's sixth-ranked team against Army. However, the Black Knights are not bowl eligible, leaving a seed open. UCLA had a waiver approved by the NCAA, which allows it to play in a bowl game with a 6-7 record, so the Bruins appear headed to San Francisco, unless they upset Oregon.
The ACC, MAC, and WAC will each likely be unable to provide a program for the bowl, leaving the potential open for a Big Ten team to play in this game. If the pieces fall into place, Northwestern may be a candidate to play at AT&T Ballpark, though I wouldn't bet on it.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl—Honolulu, HI
Hawaii sounds pretty desirable to Evanston residents during the cold month of December. At the same time, Northwestern may be desirable to Hawaii Bowl officials. The University of Hawaii earns the bowl's bid when the team is bowl-eligible, but the Rainbow Warriors currently own a 5-6 record, while a date with BYU looms this Saturday.
If Hawaii is unable to fill the bowl's seed, then the bowl may look for an at-large to fill the WAC's bid. The Wildcats may be an option for the Hawaii Bowl, if needed.