Citrus Bowl Preview: #14 Northwestern Wildcats vs Auburn Tigers



After the #14 Northwestern Wildcats fell to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game, NU coach Pat Fitzgerald gave this memorable soundbite: “we’re going to look at a couple of plays, and my great friend Bill Curry says “the pain of discipline or the pain of regret, you choose.”

Now comes a Citrus Bowl matchup with a 6-4 Auburn team that is starting over with a new head coach. Will NU be more disciplined in bowl practice for this one? Or will they have regret of an opportunity missed at Camping World Stadium?

If you’re going to be betting on this one, like the sports betting you can do at  you’ll see that the Big Ten team is favored -3.5 in this cat fight. Expect NU to cover, but the total, 46, is the more intriguing bet to possibly be had. Kickoff, from Orlando, FL, is 1pm EST on New Year’s Day. You can watch it on the ESPN App or on ABC.

NU’s only other Citrus Bowl appearance did not go well, at all. Fitzgerald, then a player, led NU to its 2nd straight Big Ten title in 1996, as the nation’s best middle linebacker. They got crushed, 48-28, on New Year’s Day 1997 at the hands of Peyton Manning and his Tennessee Volunteers team.

Auburn, 3-2 in their previous five Citrus Bowl outings, won the only previous meeting between the two, which also came in a Florida New Year’s Day bowl. It was a really wild one, 38-35 in overtime, in the 2010 Outback Bowl.

“Drake Dunsmore was amazing, the catch and run up the sideline,” Fitz said in recalling that game.

“Just amazing performances by so many of our players. I think Kafka broke a bunch of records that day, if I’m not mistaken. We needed a big turnover. We created one and had an opportunity to win a regulation.

“It didn’t work out and then got to overtime had some crazy things happen, and then we ended up a little bit short but great respect for the Auburn program.”

Auburn, who fired head coach Gus Malzahn about two weeks ago, will look to end the season and go into the Bryan Harsin era on a positive note here. Malzahan led Auburn to a national championship appearance in his first season at the helm, and two New Year’s Six bowls as well during his eight years in charge.

auburn cheerleaders 2015 nfl mock draft

He went 39-27 in the rugged SEC and 68-35 overall, so his dismissal is quite puzzling- unless it’s just a case of AU having extremely high expectations.

Northwestern has won their last three bowl games, and we’re expecting number 4 here, which would even Fitzgerald’s bowl record at 5-5.

Prediction: Northwestern 21, Auburn 10

NU Defensive Coordinator Mike Hankwitz is retiring, so the Cats will want to send him off right.

“This will be his last college game, and he’s got 399 wins, so this would be a really special one for our program and obviously for Hank,” said Fitzgerald.

pat fitzgerald

“He’s a coach’s coach. You look at my head coaching career here and our success, I mean Mike Hankwitz is in the DNA, the fabric, the architect, take whatever you want to say. I’m just so grateful for him.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of  “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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