Northwestern ready to break losing streak at Gator Bowl

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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.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon misses his chance to guest-star in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Cubs manager Joe Maddon misses his chance to guest-star in ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

MESA, Ariz. – This is a big bowl of wrong: Cubs manager Joe Maddon might have missed his only window to make the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" cameo appearance Jeff Garlin promised. 

Garlin – a Second City alumnus and one of several celebrity fans within the team's orbit – had offered Maddon a role whenever Larry David brought the band back together for the loosely scripted HBO comedy.

But last week's Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore conflicted with filming in Southern California, where "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is working on a ninth season after a five-year hiatus.

"There was one matchup, and I couldn't get there," Maddon said before Sunday's World Series rematch against the Cleveland Indians at Sloan Park. "I just couldn't do it. It'll happen."

During an all-over-the-place session with reporters that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon declined to make any Oscar predictions, saying he's into Netflix and Hulu now and doesn't really go to the movies anymore.

Maddon also hasn't watched much – or any – of the World Series highlights or documentaries. When it came to the handling Aroldis Chapman part, there were some boos inside Chicago's Civic Opera House during the premiere of Major League Baseball's "The 2016 World Series."

But Maddon said he basically skipped that type of content after being Mike Scioscia's bench coach for the 2002 Anaheim Angels and managing the Tampa Bay Rays to the 2008 World Series.

"You get busy and I don't know," Maddon said. "I need to start reading more and watching Netflix less."

Didn't you say that last spring?

"I did," Maddon said.

Maddon had been addicted to cable news during last year's polarizing presidential campaign: "But, damn, it's gotten really annoying, so I stopped watching all that stuff. It's just not good for your brain. It's really not. There's nothing to be gained."

When Maddon starts rolling, it's not hard to picture him in a scene with David and J.B. Smoove. Shaquille O'Neal, John McEnroe and Bill Buckner are among the sports figures with "Curb Your Enthusiasm" credits.

"That was the only day, so I don't know how we're going to figure this out," Maddon said. "First, they had one day set up, and that was going to be good. And then they had to change it to this other day, which was not good. So we'll have to (come up with something else), even if it's maybe a picture on the wall or a phone call."

Preview: Corey Crawford ill, Scott Darling in for Blackhawks vs. Blues

Preview: Corey Crawford ill, Scott Darling in for Blackhawks vs. Blues

The Blackhawks were already without Niklas Hjalmarsson on Sunday night. Now they’re without Corey Crawford as well.

Crawford is ill and Scott Darling will start in his place when the Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues at the United Center. Crawford was expected to start but did not skate this morning – goaltending coach Jimmy Waite took the other net. Coach Joel Quenneville does not believe Crawford has the mumps – “I haven’t heard the word mumps around here,” he said. The Vancouver Canucks are currently working through an outbreak of the mumps and several teams battled it a few seasons ago.

As for the backup, Quenneville was hoping Lars Johansson could be up in an emergency situation, as long as logistics work out. The Rockford IceHogs are scheduled to play at the Ontario (Calif.) Reign later today.

Marian Hossa did not skate this morning but he is expected to play tonight. As Quenneville said on Saturday, Hjalmarsson is day-to-day with the upper-body injury he sustained on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes but is out tonight.

The last time the Blackhawks faced the Blues was in their Winter Classic game on Jan. 2. A month later coach Ken Hitchcock was fired and, now under Mike Yeo, the Blues have gone 7-3-0 since then. That includes two losses heading into their bye week, however, which they come out of tonight.

“I think usually teams seem to respond pretty well with coaching changes. Whenever you get something new, something to renew the group, whether it’s systems or different energy in the locker room, teams seem to respond at least in the beginning,” Jonathan Toews said. “We can expect this team to be really hard to play against and obviously pretty eager to, maybe, be better overall than they have been all year, knowing what they’re capable of as a team. We know whether we’re playing St. Louis or Minnesota, teams that are close to us in the points race, the points are always huge.”

BLACKHAWKS VS. ST. LOUIS BLUES

6:30 p.m.

TV: NBCSN

Live stream: NBC Sports app

Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks

Forward lines

Nick Schmaltz -Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Tomas Jurco-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa

Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Andrew Desjardins

 

Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell-Michal Rozsival

 

Goaltender

Scott Darling

 

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Corey Crawford (ill).

 

St. Louis Blues (via NHL.com)

Forward lines

Alex Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Dmitrij Jaskin-Jori Lehtera-Magnus Paajarvi

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

 

Defensive Pairs

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

 

Goaltender

Jake Allen

 

INJURIES/ILLNESS: None.