The Northwestern Wildcats will take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn. on Dec. 29 at 3:30 p.m. CT.
For the 21st-ranked 9-3 Wildcats, it is a strong reward for what turned out to be a good season.
Northwestern seemed a bit lost earlier in the year as the team started out 2-3. The Wildcats lost to the Duke Blue Devils on the road, getting beat up in nearly every phase in the road defeat. Early season losses to the Wisconsin Badgers and Penn State Nittany Lions erased the chance to win the Big Ten.
It seemed the Wildcats would have very little to play for yet again and the team had fallen short of its potential.
Perhaps they still did. But the Wildcats made the most of their remaining games.
Northwestern has not lost since that October matchup with Penn State, winning seven straight games including three straight overtime victories. The Wildcats suddenly looked a more confident and stronger team.
Northwestern’s leaky offensive line started opening up lanes for Justin Jackson and giving Clayton Thorson time to throw. The Wildcats’ defensive line that could get no push ended up finishing as one of the best against the run in the conference and got into the backfield constantly.
It may not have been the division title-winning season many thought Northwestern could get this year, but it was still a very strong season for the Cats. A truly fun team and one of the best in Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure.
A bowl win would be the perfect way to cap it off. And the Wildcats will surely be favored.
Kentucky had a strong season too with a 7-5, 4-4 record. The Wildcats are not particularly special on either end — they average just 25.8 points per game and 350.8 yards per game. They will give up their fair share of yards too. The offense and defense step up to score wins. Kentucky can bust out. But it is far from consistent.
Kentucky won most of its games in the 20s, using turnovers to even the score and get rid of large yard disparities.
Northwestern is certainly a heavy favorite to win this game. But the team will have to avoid mistakes and make plays to win. NU will not simply be able to show up and secure a victory.
The Wildcats will have plenty of time to prepare for this one. There are still a few weeks before bowl preparations get into high gear. And the team will have to be wary of taking Kentucky too lightly or feeling it deserves a better bowl game. The Music City Bowl is more than a fine bowl game for Northwestern’s strong 9-3 season. This senior class has the chance to accomplish something truly special in Northwestern history.
There is a lot to look forward to and feel good about when it comes to this bowl game and bowl matchup. The countdown to December 29 begins now. . .