NU not lacking in motivation for bowl

Northwestern faces yet another opportunity to squash its record bowl drought, which has reached 64 years. Last year for the Texas Bowl, the Wildcats traveled with a stuffed monkey, serving as a metaphor for the program's bowl struggles. This season, NU doesn't care for added motivation.

It enjoyed first-class travel, a personal escort around Houston, and a sideline seat for the Texas Bowl. It was supposed to be a farewell tour before being obliterated.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald used a metaphoric toy monkey as motivation for his Northwestern team. It donned a white jersey with the number 63, representing the number of years since NU last won a bowl game. The monkey lived to see year 64.

This season's Wildcat team looks vastly different from the group that lost to Texas A&M in Houston. Just 10 starters return for the Gator Bowl, with it marking the first postseason appearance for many NU players. The past is just that.

"It's a clean slate," Fitzgerald said. "You look back at our performances over the last four [bowl games], we could have won all four games; we didn't. That's frustrating and motivating. But that's got nothing to do with this team or where we're at right now."

While past history is in the books, it's not completely forgotten for Northwestern's seniors.

"We've had the lucky opportunity to get to four bowl games and we haven't won one," said senior guard Brian Mulroe. "That's the main reason you go to a bowl game in the first place. This senior class, this is the only thing that's on our mind the next 20-something days."

The Gator Bowl will be Kain Colter's first postseason game as the starter at quarterback. He was slated at receiver for the TicketCity Bowl's first play, but saw many meaningful reps in both games.

Following the bowl loss in Houston, Colter was emotional as he addressed needed changes to rewrite Northwestern history. With the opportunity looming, he's not lacking motivation.

"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."

While the Wildcats continue work in preparation of Mississippi State, their Gator Bowl challenger, the stuffed monkey hides away in an undisclosed location. Will it travel along for another Northwestern bowl game?

"I don't know, I don't know" said Mulroe. "I'm not the right person to say that or not. I don't control the monkey."

When New Year's Day arrives, the Wildcats will be plenty fueled for the chance to end NU's record bowl losing streak. They'll be fine not having the monkey watching from the sidelines.

"Let's just get it off our back," said Mulroe, "and we can have it be a figure of speech."

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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