The Northwestern Wildcats welcome in the new year from Jacksonville. Its Gator Bowl berth serves as a consolation prize after failing to reach higher goals. The destination is not Pasadena, Orlando, or even Tampa Bay, as once hoped for. Fans can blame Jim Delany's backroom dealings which led the Wildcats to a lower-prestige bowl game, but they didn't deserve better—that's what oh-so-close losses to Nebraska and Michigan proved.
The season for Northwestern was a success, but not to the championship level it strives for. The push for perfection in the new year starts in Jacksonville, where the Wildcats wish for better in 2013. It's not the dream destination, but resolutions are born from humble beginnings. NU can make the most of its opportunity.
Northwestern can cap off the season—and embark on a new calendar year—with the perfect showing in the Gator Bowl, making history while pounding the snot out of the Mississippi State team it landed as a foe.
The ideal way for running back Venric Mark to put a bow on his All-American season is with a dazzling performance on the national stage—the same way he surprised Wildcat fans in the season-opener with Syracuse.
Mark proved pundits wrong with his ability to run between the tackles and bounce away from defenders, all while showing natural running-back instincts. He managed to post 1,310 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns along the way. So it would be fitting for another impressive showing in Jacksonville.
While it was a memorable season for Mark, it was another forgettable one for USC transfer Kyle Prater. He may be the Wildcat most eager for the new year. Prater's stat line is as follows: eight catches, 47 yards, zero touchdowns.
Northwestern fans were ready to build a statue in Prater's honor before he even received a purple uniform. However, Prater could be poised for a breakout game in the Gator Bowl, having seen plenty of practice repetitions during bowl preparations. It would be a perfect start to the new year for Prater.
Imagine the 6-foot-5 target matching his season receptions total in just one game, while finding the end zone for the first time. There would be no better start to 2013 for Prater.
The ideal Northwestern performance consists of a shutout from the defense, of course. After all, in this column, Jacksonville is some sort of Utopian society.
Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz would wrap up his redemption tour with his defense giving its best effort yet, a dominating effort against the Bulldog offense. In his final college game, linebacker David Nwabuisi leads the team with another 18-tackle game while rising stars Damien Proby and Ibraheim Campbell fill up the stat sheet.
NU's defense—young and still improving—could welcome a new year filled with potential with a major statement seen across the country.
The final seconds of the clock would tick off the EverBank Field scoreboard with Northwestern celebrating its first bowl victory in 64 years. The stuffed monkey—left behind from the trip in this perfect Wildcat world—watches from television. Pat Fitzgerald enjoys his signature win, validating himself in the college football world.
Heck, even Bo Cisek busts out his trademark lightsaber for one more celebration.
For Northwestern's senior class—the winningest bunch in program history—it would be a fitting farewell, honoring an unrivaled run of success. As for those Wildcats returning to campus, such a perfect result serves as a high note to start up a critical offseason.
Such a scenario is unlikely to happen, but now is the time to envision the new year as a promising one.