"We're excited and humbled to have the opportunity to represent the Big Ten in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas," NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald said to the media. "I could not be more ecstatic for our seniors. We sat here a few years ago (at 6-6) without a destination and now to have them have one more great opportunity is something that we're very humbled and excited about."
The game will be played at 11:00 a.m. on December 31st at Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans.
Houston is a short drive from College Station, TX., home of the Aggies. Pat Fitzgerald is preparing his team for a road game, even at the neutral site.
"It's going to be a road game for us," said Fitzgerald. "90 miles from College Station is Houston, right down the road. We'll prepare like we're playing on the road."
Even so, Houston is a perfect place for Fitzgerald and his Wildcats to play. NU's head coach admitted he has been to town more than 100 times—mainly for recruiting trips.
Fitzgerald is thrilled that his Wildcats will be playing in Reliant Stadium.
"Our guys are excited about it," said Fitzgerald. "When I announced it to the team, a big roar went up in the team room. We're excited for the opportunity."
Coming off a 6-6 season, and with a jumbled Big Ten bowl pecking order, it was uncertain which bowl game Northwestern would be playing in. However, the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas appeared to be unlikely.
Nine-win Penn State was passed by Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas officials due to its ongoing scandal. NU athletic director Jim Phillips undoubtedly played a key role in making Northwestern the next best option.
"It was kind of a coin flip where we were going," said NU senior safety Brian Peters. "We had Jim Phillips and the athletic department working for us. I don't know if this is the best bowl possible but it's pretty close. We're excited."
Northwestern senior quarterback Dan Persa is especially excited for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, because it will be his first bowl game start. Persa did not play in any of the Wildcats' last three bowl appearances—missing the TicketCity Bowl due to a season-ending Achilles injury.
"As a starting quarterback, I'm definitely looking forward to it," said Persa. "It's just like a regular game. I was there for the other games, I went through all the stuff last year, so I don't think it's that different or that big a deal."
Mabin had 62 tackles on the season, but more importantly, brought stability to a youthful defense. His absence will undoubtedly be felt.
"It's unfortunate for him," said Peters. "After going through four years completely unharmed and to have this happen, he's a tough kid and we all feel for him, he's working through it. It's just rough stuff, especially for a senior captain. It's going to be tough to fill his shoes."
Northwestern has already held four practices since the final game of the regular season, and will continue bowl preparations later this week, though now, with knowledge of the upcoming opponent.
Texas A&M finished the regular season with six losses, though five of those were by a touchdown or less. Head coach Mike Sherman was dismissed at the end of the season, and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter was appointed interim head coach.
"We know it's a great team with a lot of great football players," said NU senior tackle Alex Netter. "We haven't really started analyzing them on film but just from the Thanksgiving game in Texas, they just have a lot of extremely gifted athletes and play extremely hard. It's going to be a challenge for us up front."
Northwestern ended its season with a demoralizing 14-point loss to Michigan State, which spoiled Senior Day.
The NU senior class—the winningest group in program history—aims to end the Northwestern's 62-year bowl drought.
"I think it'd be huge," said Netter. "It would be a great way for our seniors to put a stamp on what we've done, put a stamp on what we've been able to accomplish here as a program. To be able to finish our careers with a bowl win would just mean everything to us."