Officials make "make-up calls" in football all the time, so maybe this could be considered a "make-up invitation."
One year after snubbing Northwestern, the Outback Bowl surprised many by picking the Wildcats to play Auburn on New Year's Day. It will be Northwestern's first New Year's Day bowl game since the Wildcats played in the Florida Citrus Bowl in 1997.
Last year, the Outback bypassed Northwestern to select Iowa, despite the fact that the Wildcats had a better overall record and beat the Hawkeyes head-to-head. But this year the Outback selected Northwestern with its third pick in the Big Ten pecking order, even though most experts projected the Wildcats to earn an invite to the Champs Sports Bowl, which holds the fourth conference selection.
"We're extremely proud of our football program, which for the second straight year, finished the season by playing its best football," said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald in the official Outback Bowl press release. "We're proud to represent the Big Ten on New Year's Day at the Outback Bowl against Auburn, a tremendous opponent from the Southeastern Conference. I'm thrilled for our senior class, which is one of the winningest classes in program history. Our number one goal this season was to win our bowl game. Now the opportunity is in front of us and it is time to consistently prepare every day to achieve that goal."
Auburn finished the 2009 season 7-5 (3-5) and in a three-way tie for fourth place in the SEC West. The Tigers are led by running back Ben Tate, who rushed for 1,254 yards and is a semi-finalist for the Doak Walker Award.
"To be certain, we're extremely excited about taking the Wildcats to Tampa for a New Year's Day bowl game," added Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips in the same release. "This is a tremendous reward for our football program, which made huge strides throughout the course of the season. I know everyone associated with Northwestern and all our passionate fans will have a tremendous experience in Tampa. We are honored and enthusiastically accept this wonderful opportunity to travel to the Outback Bowl and represent the Big Ten Conference."
The Outback Bowl is celebrating its 24th year and will kickoff at 11 A.M. (ET) on Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game will be telecast internationally on ESPN.
According to the Outback Bowl release, tickets are $70 each and are available at Ticketmaster outlets throughout Florida, via phone at (800) 745-3000 and online at www.Ticketmaster.com. Tickets are also available through the Auburn and Northwestern ticket offices. Information on the Outback Bowl game, bowl events, area hotels and the Tampa/Clearwater/St Pete area can be found on the bowl's web site at www.outbackbowl.com.