Cats passed over

Even though the Northwestern football team was passed over by two bowls Monday, coach Randy Walker could barely conceal his joy and excitement when he learned that his team would be playing in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Dec. 30.

“Picture coach Walker down the River Walk, coming down on a pickle boat,” Walker said during a Monday news conference. “Waving to the crowd. That’d be awesome.”

Earlier in the day, No. 20 NU learned that its 8-3 overall record and share of the Big Ten championship wouldn’t be enough to earn a bid to one of two New Year’s Day bowl games — the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., and the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

After No. 14 Purdue clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl Saturday, the Citrus used its second choice of Big Ten teams on No. 16 Michigan (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten). This came despite the fact that Michigan had an identical record as NU, and that the Cats beat the Wolverines 54-51 on Nov. 4.

The Outback then opted for No. 21 Ohio State (8-3, 5-3), which finished behind NU in the Big Ten standings. The two schools did not play in the regular season. But both Michigan and Ohio State have rich football traditions and a large fan base, which may have been factors in the two bowls’ decisions.

Despite the apparent snub, Walker said he was delighted that the Alamo Bowl, with the fourth pick of Big Ten teams, selected NU.

“Quite frankly, I was pulling and hoping for the Alamo Bowl,” Walker said. “I thought that would be a great fit for us. Not that Tampa isn’t great or Citrus isn’t great. They’re all great.

“I’m tickled that the Alamo Bowl and San Antonio want us. I think it’s going to be great for our fans, great for our kids. Heck, our seniors have been to the Citrus Bowl. They don’t want to go back there. The heck with ’em. We want to go somewhere else and have fun.”

It will be the fourth bowl appearance in NU’s history and the first since the 1997 Citrus Bowl. Though it has not been decided, the Cats will face a Big 12 team — likely Kansas State, Texas or Texas A&M.

Some NU players said they were taken aback after being bypassed.

“I was surprised because I honestly did think we were going to a Jan. 1 game,” senior cornerback Harold Blackmon said. “I mean, it was a surprise, but this whole season’s been a surprise.”

Senior defensive end Dwayne Missouri, a San Antonio native, said the Cats were able to show the bowl selection committees their on-field capabilities with victories over bowl-bound Michigan and Wisconsin.

However, the committees also considered potential attendance revenue and television ratings, among other things.

“We proved ourselves on the field,” Missouri said. “If bowl selection committees don’t want to take us, that’s their loss. We’re not going to worry about it.”

Added Blackmon: “There’s nothing we can do but to go out there and enjoy our time. Eventually, coach Walker and the rest of the team will have to work hard and maintain a winning tradition here. I feel like once we get a tradition, we won’t have to worry about it.”

Walker also acknowledged that the Cats had a chance to secure a spot in the Rose Bowl late in the season. But NU failed to take sole possession of first place last week, instead suffering a devastating 27-17 loss at Iowa.

“Obviously, the selectors had a tough job because I think this league was very, very competitive,” Walker said. “We just had to do the best we could do. It wasn’t good enough to get in the Rose Bowl, but that’s on us. Let’s be honest about that too. We had that in our hands and I’m going to make this a positive because we won a championship.”

The Cats will rest for a week and hit the books in the meantime. Walker said he will hold 15 days of practice before the Alamo Bowl.

And depending on the players’ condition after Thanksgiving break, Walker is ready to fire at the Cats, like he’s done all season.

“I know they’re going to go home for Thanksgiving and eat a bunch of turkey and come back here feeling pretty good about themselves,” Walker said. “If we’re sloppy and fat, I can correct that. I don’t want to be a track coach. I can be. But I’d rather not. I think we’re in great shape now. I hope they don’t undo what they’ve done.”