NU will arrive in Nashville for the Music City Bowl on a roll, winners of seven in a row as the program notched nine victories for the ninth team in school annals and won seven Big Ten games for only the third time ever during a second-place finish in the West Division. When you consider all of that, NU probably deserved a bit better of a bowl destination.
Regardless, Pat Fitzgerald will have the Wildcats ready for Kentucky, which went 4-4 in the SEC to finish tied for third in the SEC East. This is the second season in a row UK has gone 4-4 in conference play, which last happened in 1998-99. But Kentucky will limp into Nashville having lost three of four and four of six, having gotten smoked in its last two games (42-13 at Georgia; 44-17 vs. Louisville). A win vs. Northwestern would be a nice elixir and give UK eight victories for the first time since 2009.
These programs have met just one other time, with Northwestern taking a 7-0 win in Evanston way back in 1928. NU will be looking for its third bowl-win in its last four postseason appearances in this battle of the Wildcats. NU lost nine bowls in a row before beating Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl after the 2012 season. Last season, Northwestern beat Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl.
This will be the third SEC foes Northwestern will have played in a bowl since 2012, beating Mississippi State in the aforementioned Gator Bowl and losing to Tennessee in the Outback Back bowl in the 2015 season. NU also played and lost to Auburn in the Outback Back after the 2009 season and to Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl after the 1996 season.
UK is in a bowl for the second year in a row under Mark Stoops, falling to Georgia Tech in the Taxslayer Bowl last season. In fact, the Wildcats have lost three bowls in succession, last winning vs. East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl after the 2008 season. Kentucky last played a Big Ten team in the postseason in the Outback Bowl after the 1998 campaign, when the Wildcats were led by Tim Couch and lost to Penn State. This will be Kentucky’s fifth trip to the 20-year old Music City Bowl, more than any other school as Stoops has the program on the move. UK is one of two teams the country to tie or improve its win total from the previous year in each of the last five seasons, which coincides with Stoops’ tenure in Lexington.