Outback Bowl

January 1, 2010 by USA Post 

Outback Bowl:Despite hiring a young coach with an underwhelming resume, Auburn has spent the majority of this season in the shadow of Tennessee and its rookie coach, Lane Kiffin. This has been a luxury at times — especially when you lose five of your last six against F.B.S. competition — and unfortunate at others, such as during a 5-0 start. Northwestern, which actually lost to Syracuse, can commiserate with Auburn’s up-and-down play. However, unlike Auburn, Northwestern played its best football in the final month, ending the year with wins over Iowa and Wisconsin.

Outback Bowl

Friday, 11 a.m., ESPN

Pat Fitzgerald may be a better coach than a linebacker, which should tell you much about where he has taken the Northwestern program in his short four years in charge. Fitzgerald inherited a difficult situation, replacing his boss, Randy Walker, after Walker died of a heart attack during the summer of 2006. After a 4-8 record in 2006, Fitzgerald has led the Wildcats to 23 wins over the past three seasons, with the chance to match last year’s nine-win output with a win over Auburn. Only one problem: Northwestern cannot win a bowl game. Not playing in very many — none, in fact, from 1950-95 — has hurt, but the Wildcats are mired in a six-game bowl losing streak. The only bowl win in team history came in the 1949 Rose Bowl, when Northwestern beat California. This will be the program’s first January bowl game since the 1997 Citrus Bowl, when Tennessee won by 20. These Wildcats are not superb in any area, but they will feature an above-average rush defense (35th in the nation). Auburn, on the other hand, has the 13th-best ground game in the country.

A tale of two seasons for the Tigers: 5-0 through Oct. 3, 2-5 through the rest of the year. In fact, only a 49-24 win over Mississippi State, who finished with a similar 3-5 mark in conference action, prevented Auburn from finishing last in the SEC West. The highlight of the year was that hot stretch to open the year, which seemingly validated the decision to replace Tommy Tuberville with Gene Chizik. The offense, under the direction of Gus Malzahn, was explosive as any in the nation through September — until SEC play began. Once opposing defensive coordinators got a look at both the offense and who was running it, adjustments were made; Auburn only once scored more than 24 points against its final six F.B.S. opponents. Included in this late-season swoon was another loss to Alabama (that makes two straight) and ugly defeats to Arkansas, Kentucky and L.S.U. in consecutive weeks. In Auburn’s favor is the lack of players on the roster capable of properly fitting into this offense, as most of the offense on the roster was recruited to play the smash-mouth running game implement to solid success by Tuberville. The Tigers will be better in 2010.

Know Your Sponsor

Outback Steakhouse
No American restaurant chain sums up the Australian experience quite like Outback Steakhouse, which offers Down Under favorites like steak, potatoes, chicken, vegetables and blooming onions. According to the Outback Steakhouse Web site, the goal of the chain is to offer “generous portions at moderate prices and a casual atmosphere suggestive of the Australian Outback.” I’ve never been on walk-about, so I can’t verify this claim. I do like Outback’s slogan: “No rules, just right.”

Pick ‘Em

Pete: Auburn. This won’t even be close.
Thayer: Auburn. Even Jack Bauer can’t help Northwestern break its bowl drought.
Paul: Northwestern. The Wildcats are due.
Fred: Auburn. Hard to pick Northwestern against Auburn. A win by the Wildcats would be huge for the Big Ten, but I think it’s going to be too much Ben Tate for Northwestern to handle.
Connor: Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald has his Wildcats playing well to end the season.

Records Through Dec. 31

Connor: 44-26 (regular season); 10-10 (bowls)
Thayer: 44-26; 11-9
Paul: 43-27; 10-10
Pete: 43-27; 10-10
Fred: 43-27; 11-9

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