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The Northwestern Wildcats Finally Get “The Bowl Monkey” Off Their Backs

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

63 years. 9 bowl games. Finally, the streak is over.

For the entire time he’s been at the helm in Evanston, Pat Fitzgerald has been hearing one thing…. when are you going to get that elusive bowl victory?

Well, he won’t have to answer that question any longer. The Northwestern Wildcats are flying high after winning the 2013 Gator Bowl over the Mississippi State Bulldogs on New Year’s Day.

It was match up many in purple felt was favorable coming in. Heck, Las Vegas had Northwestern as a two point favorite before kickoff after initially installing Mississippi State as a two point favorite. But still it was an SEC team with a supposedly elite quarterback and major speed on defense. Northwestern wasn’t having any of it.

The coaching staff gladly took some of the Bulldogs players comments as motivation, if the streak wasn’t enough all ready, and they used the month off to game plan for everything.

From the start the Wildcats were aggressive. Defensively, they brought pressure from various angles as they weren’t going to let the gunslinger Tyler Russell chew them up. Offensively, they used a variety of formations and showed a willingness to incorporate all their personnel. It was going smoothly until the 2nd quarter.

For whatever reason, the ‘Cats took their foot off the gas and Northwestern fans everywhere let out a collective sigh. “Oh no here we go again” was a common theme I found. However, that feeling wouldn’t last much longer.

Fitzgerald refocused his team at half and they came out firing in the 3rd quarter. Letting quarterback Trevor Siemian throw deep, even with the studs in the Bulldogs secondary, was huge. One 3rd down early in the 3rd quarter set the tone. Siemian somehow escaped pressure and used his strong arm to throw across his body for a 1st down. The Wildcats scored a few plays later.

Sure, you can say Northwestern got “lucky” thanks to some gift interceptions from Russell. Although, only one was a truly awful throw and that was the “pop up” INT early in the 4th quarter. The rest were forced by Northwestern’s defensive.

I suppose you could say the Wildcats were given a major break when Johnthan Banks got hurt on the punt return. However, they still showed the willingness to throw at Darius Slay, on the other side, who is a pretty damn good DB himself.

The bottom line is Northwestern won. Too many times over the years they’ve been on the wrong side of a “bad break”. Perhaps, the sports gods said enough was enough today.

Going forward, the Wildcats are in very good shape. Almost everyone returns from this year’s team, headlined by the dynamic duo of Kain Colter and Venric Mark. The 2013 recruiting class is one of the best in the Big Ten and Northwestern’s schedule is favorable with their toughest game at home versus the Ohio State Buckeyes.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Evanston after the team lost a major group of seniors, especially at the skill positions. I predicted they would barely become bowl eligible at 6-6. How wrong I was! They got to 10 wins and played in a New Year’s Day bowl game.

We aren’t even 24 hours after the thrilling conclusion to the 2012-2013 but I’d say you can mark the ‘Cats down for at least 8-9 wins next year. Battling for the “Legends” division should be, at the very least, the goal. Realistically, it will probably come down to the them and the Nebraska Cornhuskers as the Michigan Wolverines lose quite a bit on the offensive side of the football. We’ll find out a heck of a lot more this fall! However, next season will be a whole lot different than many before. Why? Expectations.

Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts.