With championship Saturday in the books, bowl destinations are beginning to leak out, and Auburn is heading to a familiar place against a familiar opponent.
Get ready for another Big Ten team on New Year’s Day in a Florida bowl game. Auburn last played Northwestern in the 2010 Outback Bowl, leading into a perfect calendar year when the Tigers would win the national championship.
Now, it’ll be a bit of a whimper to finish the season. Gone is Gus Malzahn, and Kevin Steele will lead the team in the bowl game as interim coach. On the other sideline it’s Pat Fitzgerald, the former All-American linebacker who’s been head coach for the Wildcats since 2006.
Northwestern lost the Big Ten Championship Game to Ohio State yesterday, showing little offense in the process in a 22-10 defeat. However, they’re still a solid team going against an currently-rudderless Auburn squad. We’ve all heard about the supposed turmoil in the coaching search, and that can’t be good for the team.
It’ll be the third straight year that Auburn plays a Big Ten team in a bowl game, the second straight New Year’s Day bowl matchup, and third Big Ten opponent in the last ten years. Since the turn of the millennium, Auburn has played 8 bowls against Big Ten foes, going 4-4 in those games.
To be honest, this is a lose-lose situation for Auburn. It’s an uninspiring opponent, but one that’ll play its best game when they see an SEC team across the sideline. Auburn may not even be favored, but they’ll likely be expected to win this game either way, and it’ll be a disappointment if they lose. Meanwhile, the fans don’t get to see anything new and exciting, even though this year has hardly merited anything new or exciting.
Furthermore, the bowl process this year will be less enticing for the players. They’ll be pulled away from their families to go play in a game that they may or may not care about, after getting little time with them since the summer. In a season where many teams didn’t even get to finish their allotment of regularly-scheduled games, this one feels super meaningless... even more so than non-Playoff bowls usually do.
Still, this is going to be extra practices that this team can greatly utilize, and we may even have a new head coach by that time. Based on the hot list of candidates, anyone we pick is going to be going through bowl prep for his own team, so they’ll certainly not be involved in our process. Even so, it’ll give us even more opportunity to scrutinize which assistants might stay, or who might go, and even to see some of our favorite players one last time before they depart.