Northwestern looking to end bowl game drought


Northwestern looking to end bowl game drought

It was 1949 and the baby boom era was emerging. The average salary in the United States was a paltry 3,600 a year. A gallon of gas cost 26 cents. A loaf of bread was half of that. The cost of an average-size new home was about 14,000.

And in the sports world, Northwestern beat California in the'49 Rose Bowl Game.

The world just hasn't been the same since. Fortunately salaries have gone up, though bread, gas and new homes have skyrocketed 10-fold. But unfortunately, Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since.

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Not that the Wildcats haven't had the opportunities. Nine times since the win over California, Northwestern has gone bowl-ing. They've yet to hit a strike or convert a split.

But as they say in the sports world, this is a different team. It's a different group of players, a new attitude with fresh faces. There's a belief that this can be the group that breaks the curse.

The Cats have been close on a number of occasions. Three times in the last four years, they've come up a touchdown or field goal short. Seven, three and seven point margins along with an 11-point defeat dot the resume of the fifth-year seniors who will wear the purple one final time.

That comes on Tuesday when Northwestern tangles with Southeastern Conference member Mississippi State at the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

It's a new venue for the Wildcats. They've never played a game in Jacksonville. Fact is, they've only made four previous trips to the state of Florida for a football game - bowl games in Orlando (1997) and Tampa (2010) and one-time visits to Florida (1966) and Miami, FL (1968). All four resulted in losses but the current NU team was only involved in one of them, the Outback Bowl loss two years ago, a 38-35 defeat to Auburn in overtime.

What isn't new for Northwestern is playing in a postseason bowl game. The Wildcats are making their fifth consecutive postseason appearance during coach Pat Fitzgerald's seven seasons as head coach. While the ending isn't what Fitzgerald is looking for, the consistency in playing in a bowl game is.

"Ending our bowl-game losing streak is the next step in where we want to go as a program," Fitzgerald told the media following his team's first practice in Jacksonville. "The consistent success we've had in the program of being in the postseason for five successive seasons is something we're proud of. Winning a bowl game is the next step.

"We've been close in our previous four but as the ole saying goes, 'close is only good in a couple of things and football isn't one of them.'

"I'd be really ecstatic for our seniors. They've meant so much to us, leaving our program as our all-time winningest senior class. To leave with an exclamation point if they finish the job would be a strong statement for their leadership and what they've meant to build our program to where it's at today."

Northwestern has been oh-so-close to recording its first bowl win since the '49 Rose Bowl. It certainly looked like it was going to happen in the 2010 Outback Bowl in Tampa against Auburn.

Trailing by 14 points with three minutes to play, Northwestern scored twice in the final minutes, including having to convert a 2-point conversion with 75 seconds left after the previous PAT was blocked. Auburn kicked a field goal on their first possession in overtime and NU tried to match it, only to have the kick clang off the right upright. But a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Cats another opportunity. On 4th-and-goal from the 2, Fitzgerald went for the element of surprise. He called for a fake field goal, but it wasn't successful, giving the Tigers an unexpected win.

Fitzgerald said the team came to Jacksonville with one message in mind.

"We're here to win. That's pretty simple," he said. "When it's time to work, we're going to work to win and work to be champions. When it's time to have fun, we're going to enjoy ourselves.

"At the end of the day, it's about executing for four quarters. For the most part in our previous games we haven't been able to do that. We've played a half really well, we've played three quarters really well, but we haven't put together a full four quarters. And that's our challenge against a very good football team."

Offensive guard Brian Mulroe is one of the staples of a talented line that features three seniors and a pair of sophomores. He has a team-leading 39 career starts over the past three seasons and is one of the senior representatives on the team's Leadership Council that Fitzgerald created after last year's loss to Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

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The 6-4, 295-pound senior has experienced all four of the Wildcats bowl game losses since 2008. He's determined not to end his career with another L.

"It's been tough the last couple of years, especially to see the seniors end their season that way," he said. "I don't want to see our class end our career that way. We don't want to be in that locker room crying.

"We're going to come out on top and we'll be yelling and screaming and celebrating. It really motivates you to give your all so you can finish with a win in a bowl game."

The underclassmen feel the same way. They want to end the bowl game drought so that it will stop being a topic of conversation. It would instead, enable them to boast of being the group that started a new trend in school postseason play.

"It would mean a lot to put an end to that streak," starting quarterback Kain Colter said. "I feel like everyone on this team is motivated to be known as the team to get that bowl win for the first time in a long, long time. The seniors have done a good job in building the foundation that we have. We're on the rise right now and a lot of that is credited to them.

"If we could send them off the right way and add another part to their legacy and continue on to our legacy, that would be great."

DeShone Kizer stays the same leader for new group of Notre Dame teammates

DeShone Kizer stays the same leader for new group of Notre Dame teammates

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A number of teammates took the field for the first time with DeShone Kizer during the cacophony of Sunday night’s atmosphere at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin. And much as Kizer did last year, he led the Irish offense with a certain kind of poise and mentality that deftly toes the line between confident and cocky. 

“When we were down by two touchdowns or when it was tied, he had the same demeanor,” sophomore receiver C.J. Sanders said. “That really speaks volumes about him as a man.”

Kizer wowed his teammates a year ago when he subbed in for the injured Malik Zaire and threw a game-winning touchdown to Will Fuller. It wasn’t just for the throw, but it was also for the way in which the quarterback conducted himself in a hostile, pressure-packed environment. 

Last year’s Irish offense, though, was loaded with leaders. Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin and Chris Brown were pillars on that team, and there were veterans all around like Fuller, C.J. Prosise, Steve Elmer and Amir Carlisle. 

Notre Dame only returned a handful of upperclassmen who played on that 2015 team in Kizer, Torii Hunter Jr., Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson (running back Tarean Folston was injured in Week 1 against Texas, and tight end Durham Smythe missed the remainder of the regular season after an injury in Week 2). 

So that meant there was quite a bit of inexperience permeating Notre Dame’s offense Sunday night. But some of those greenhorns said Kizer’s composure and confidence helped them ease into a roaringly-intense evening. 

“When we were down, he brought us together and said we’re going to drive and score and come back,” sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown said, adding that message from Kizer gave him and the rest of the Irish offense a confidence boost in the second half. 

“What young guys typically don’t understand when they go into that environment is that it’s not too much different from what you’re doing in practice,” Kizer said. “When you step in front of 100,000 people, there’s a lot of noise and that could definitely create some adrenaline. But other than that, we’re playing the same game that we’ve been playing all summer. 

“The plays have been made time and time again all offseason and just understanding that when they’re out there, they’re expected to make those same exact plays and all they have to do is do that and do that well. You don’t have to go out there and be someone else. We have a really good coaching staff who put you in good positions to make big plays and all you have to do is execute what they say.” 

Leadership is one of those nebulous things every football player and coach will tell you is necessary, but it’s a quality that’s impossible to quantify. It’s not an end-all, be-all for an offense or defense — Notre Dame, after all, didn’t score when it got the ball back after Jarron Jones’ miraculous blocked PAT, which probably had more to do with the loss of Hunter Jr. than anything else — but it is something that can be pointed to as an asset in close games. 

And with Kizer quarterbacking the offense, Notre Dame has to feel confident in its ability to hang in close games. It still needs its special teams, defense (which was primarily behind recent losses to Stanford and Texas) and coaching (behind the loss to Clemson) to come through, but the next time Notre Dame finds itself in a high-pressure, hostile situation, it can count on Kizer to keep things calm. 

And that counts for something, whatever the extent of it is. 

“Before the game he kind of talked to us, got in front of us and told us hey, I don’t care how young you are, I know you guys can make plays,” Sanders said. “So just hearing that from him developed a comfort level to know that he can depend on us. Hearing that from him really made a big difference.” 

Loyola excited for upcoming season, trip to Spain

Loyola excited for upcoming season, trip to Spain

Loyola didn't have the season they were hoping for in 2015-16 but they're optimistic that things can turn around for the upcoming season. Even though the Loyola roster is filled with newcomers, the Ramblers are hopeful that a summer trip to Spain can help give them a head start.

As part of the trip, Loyola will get 10 extra practices and four games against Spanish competition that will give the team some much-needed experience before practice officially begins in October.

Head coach Porter Moser is already happy about working with this group, which features some productive returnees and a lot of talented newcomers.

"We play four games over there. They get that feel of being coached in a game at this level with their teammates," Moser said. "So then when we start back up in October they have a sense of some of the things we're trying to teach, some of the things of what to expect. And I think that's such a big element."

On a team full of new players, it will be important for senior guard Milton Doyle to have a bounce-back year for Loyola after a disappointing junior campaign. A former star at Marshall, Doyle saw his shooting percentages dip last season as the Loyola coaching staff challenged him to improve for his final season of college basketball. 

Moser is happy with the strides that Doyle has made this summer as he's added over 10 pounds of muscle to now play at 192 pounds. Also committed on the defensive end of the floor and being a team leader, Doyle is the Ramblers' only senior this season, so he'll be counted on to be a productive presence.

"It's a lot this year just because we had four seniors leave last year and I'm the last senior," Doyle said. "So it's my job to make sure everyone stays on track and everyone is uplifted, even when coaches get on them. That's my job right now."

Junior wing Donte Ingram — a former Simeon product — and junior guard Ben Richardson also return as key contributors from last year's team while Iowa State transfer guard Clayton Custer is expected to come in and be a major factor in the team's backcourt rotation.

As for the newcomers, Moser compared juco transfer forward Aundre Jackson favorably to former Loyola forward Christian Thomas while Vlatko Granic gives the team a stretch option at forward that they didn't have in the past. The team's freshmen are also very talented as guard Matt Chastain has shown solid athleticism and a good basketball IQ through some early practices. 

Another freshman guard, Cameron Satterwhite, is coming off of a torn ACL that cost him his senior season, but the Loyola staff is optimistic about his recovery for this season. Croatian freshman guard Bruno Skokna is also recovering from injury as he has played against professionals in Europe the last few seasons on an amateur contract. He is expected to be cleared soon so that he can return to action this season.

"I love this group because it's a group full of gym rats. This is a really enthusiastic group," Moser said. "They've come together, we've got a lot of newcomers. That's the benefit, that's why we did the Spain trip this summer."

Loyola takes its trip to Spain from Aug. 12-22 as they'll hit cities like Barcelona and Madrid during the trip.