Northwestern ready to break losing streak at Gator Bowl


Northwestern ready to break losing streak at Gator Bowl

As bowl games now come regularly for Northwestern, its wins that remain elusive.

But the Wildcats werent preoccupied with a nine-game bowl losing streak as they opened Gator Bowl preparations Saturday at their indoor practice facility.

Its a clean slate, insisted Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. And if you look back at our performances over the last four (seasons) we could have won all four games. We didnt and thats frustrating and motivating, but at the same time it has nothing to do with this team and where were at.

The No. 21-ranked Wildcats (9-3) play in a New Years Day bowl for the third time in four years, meeting unranked Mississippi State (8-4) in the 2013 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.

The guys are hungry, Fitzgerald said. Its a big game for our seniors and a huge game for our program.

Nine regular season wins were the most since 2008 as the Cats beat opponents from four different Bowl Championship Series conferences (Big East, SEC, ACC and the Big Ten) in the same season.

But Northwestern, which topped Cal 20-14 in the 1949 Rose Bowl, also carries a burden of an unwanted streak thats a collegiate record. Its shared with Notre Dame, which had its own run of bowl futility between 1995 and 2007.

Wildcat quarterback Kain Colter said its time to end the 64-year drought.

This is the best team weve had since Ive been here, Colter said. Were a real close group and we really want to get it for the seniors. Theyve meant a lot for this group and we want to send them out on a high note. Were building a legacy now and this is how we add to it.

One of those seniors is lineman Bo Cisek, originally a walk-on from Niles-Notre Dame who earned a football scholarship and appeared in 11 games this season.

This is our fifth straight bowl game and we seniors have lost four in a row, Cisek said. Weve come together very well and its shown because this is absolutely the best team environment weve had.

After the 1949 Rose Bowl win, the Wildcats wandered in the Big Ten wilderness through most of the next 45 seasons and didnt make another bowl appearance until 1995 as Big Ten champs under Gary Barnett.

The current losing streak also kicked off that year -- a 41-32 Rose Bowl setback to USC. Barnett took the Wildcats to another bowl the next year. His successor, Randy Walker, had three bowl appearances between 1999 and his untimely death in 2006.

Under Fitzgerald, the Wildcats are 0-for-4 in the post-season since 2008, including a 33-22 loss to Texas A&M in last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl. But theyve also had an enviable 39-25 overall record in that span.

On Saturday, Fitzgerald guided the Wildcats through a 90-minute indoor workout that drew several dozen visitors, including potential recruits and high school coaches who lined the sides of the 60-yard artificial turf field.

After training, Fitzgerald said that even with a lengthy break now under way, he hopes the momentum of three wins in the Cats final four games continues to resonate.

Weve been pretty successful as the season has gone along this year, weve played better and better, he said. Hopefully well play our best game of the year on the 1st.

Fitzgerald said Jan. 1 date is ideal for both personnel and preparation. Northwestern training will be light next week for final exams for students while coaches concentrate on recruiting.

Well get a chance to get a lot of work in and then send them home on the night of (Dec.) 20th and then we dont have to reconvene until the 26th, he said. That gives us a great opportunity to prepare and a better opportunity to spend time with family.

While the Northwestern and Mississippi State programs meet for the first time, their respective coaches know each other pretty well.

Fitzgerald and Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen first met while assistant coaches at Northwestern and Bowling Green, respectively. They often ran into each other while recruiting and still occasionally chat.

Dan Mullen and I are very good friends, weve known each other a long time, Fitzgerald said in a teleconference last week. He's one of the guys who's in my small circle of coaches who, if I've got a thought about doing this or that, I'll send Danny a text or give him a call and we've done that for a number of years.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Looking ahead to the Cubs in the World Series


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Looking ahead to the Cubs in the World Series

“Carmen and Jurko” from ESPN 1000 and Justin Roman from US 99’s “Stylz and Roman” join David Kaplan on the SportsTalk Live panel.

They reflect on a surreal Saturday night as the Cubs’ clinched their first pennant in 71 years. Plus ESPN 1000’s Jesse Rogers and Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi join Kap from Cleveland to preview Game 1 of the World Series.

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below:

Road Ahead: Kyle Schwarber's potential World Series impact

Road Ahead: Kyle Schwarber's potential World Series impact

CLEVELAND — Kyle Schwarber is expected to be in the Cubs' lineup for Game 1 of the World Series, representing a wild, improbable comeback.

Schwarber tore his ACL and LCL during the first week of the regular season in a collision with Dexter Fowler in center field.

Now, more than six months later, he's back and deemed ready to go after appearing in Arizona Fall League action the last three days.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]'s Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki break down Schwarber's potential impact in the Honda Road Ahead and why everybody is so drawn to the "Fast Hulk."

As Mooney says, the Cubs even had front office members running up to their suite during the pennant celebration Saturday night at Wrigley Field to watch Schwarber's at-bats down in Arizona. 

But with Schwarber back, that presents another ripple on the Andrew Miller storyline as the Indians' superstar reliever already posed a major threat to the Cubs before adding another left-handed bat into the fold that hasn't seen live pitching since early April.

Check out more in the Honda Road Ahead above, brought to you by Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Honda dealers.