Wildcats bound for Gator Bowl

Northwestern will welcome in the new year in Jacksonville. The Wildcats will participate in a program-record fifth consecutive bowl appearance, playing Mississippi State in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl.

Pat Fitzgerald was excited to inform his Northwestern team of its Gator Bowl berth. By the time in which the Wildcats had gathered together, it was old news.

"Five years ago, when we announced [the bowl selection] to them, that was the first they heard it," said Fitzgerald. "Now, they heard it from the twittersphere."

Northwestern will battle with 8-4 Mississippi State on January 1 in Jacksonville, playing in a program-record fifth consecutive bowl game.

When the sun rose on Sunday, all indications had Northwestern playing in the Capital One Bowl against Texas A&M. Then came a curveball the Wildcats weren't expecting.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the Big Ten and SEC squeezed its two conference runners-up, Nebraska and Georgia, into the top non-BCS bowl game. The Outback Bowl, the Big Ten's second pick, elected for Michigan in its game.

The news likely came as a disappointment for Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, who was promoting his football program to bowl officials till 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. Still, he is eager for the opportunity in the Gator Bowl.

"It's going to be a great trip for us," Phillips said. "I know our fans our excited. It's always a great privilege when you get a chance to play in a January 1st game in Florida."

Since the Wildcats ended their regular season with a 9-3 record, fans, players, and coaches went to work on plugging the program for a Capital One Bowl bid. It started with Pat Fitzgerald rewriting a tweet from the bowl's official Twitter handle claiming it would welcome Northwestern.

"There are no rules on Twitter, right," joked Fitzgerald. "I'm just having a little fun."

Throughout the week, Wildcat fans chimed in with their pleas, pushing for the most prestigious bowl possible.

"The great news is how passionate our fans are," added Fitzgerald. "That's what's exciting to me. I know they're going to support this team."

While many of the Wildcats were aware of their bowl fate before it was made official. captains David Nwabuisi and Kain Colter were preoccupied. Rather than following along on Twitter, Nwabuisi was playing video games with his teammates. As for Colter, his Sunday was spent taking a nap.

"My mom had texted me," said Colter. "She had been the first to find out and tell me."

Last season, Fitzgerald used a stuffed animal monkey as a figure of frustration representing Northwestern's then-63-year bowl losing streak. While the metaphor lives on, he isn't sure if the monkey will be making a return.

For the Wildcats, motivation comes naturally as they look to cap their season with a victory.

"There's nothing to hold back for," senior linebacker David Nwabuisi said. "I'm really pushing it and trying to get everybody to push just as hard."

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.
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