Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern will be back in a familiar setting as they look to complete the winningest season in program history.
The Cats are heading to the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day, where they will square off against the Tennessee Volunteers. It's the same bowl game Fitzgerald's Cats played in on Jan. 1, 2010, a wild overtime loss to Auburn during which Mike Kafka threw for 532 yards.
“Our entire football family is thrilled for the opportunity to cap the 2015 campaign and kick off 2016 at the Outback Bowl,” Fitzgerald said in the announcement. "We’re grateful for the opportunity to take the field one more time in what has been a special season for our student-athletes. The Wildcats last visit to Tampa was one of the most memorable games in Northwestern history, we’re looking forward to another unforgettable Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day."
“This is a tremendous honor and opportunity for our student-athletes,” athletics director Jim Phillips said. “Their remarkable accomplishments in the classroom, in the community and in competition, makes the Northwestern family proud each day. Wildcats across the country and around the world look forward to celebrating the New Year together in Tampa at the Outback Bowl."
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The Cats have played the Vols just once before. Coincidentally, that was Fitzgerald's final game as a player for the Cats, the Citrus Bowl to cap the 1996 season. Northwestern lost that game, 48-28.
The Cats have already turned in one of just four 10-win seasons in program history, losing just twice during the regular season and earning the No. 13 spot in the final College Football Playoff rankings. An 11th win against Tennessee would mean the first-ever 11-win season for a Northwestern team.
This is just the 12th all-time trip to a bowl game for Northwestern, though Fitzgerald has made it a habit, leading the Cats to six of those postseason games. The Cats missed a bowl in each of the past two seasons but secured a spot in a pretty high-level one this season.