AUBURN, Ala. (EETV) - After the conclusion of an unusual season — in which Auburn played only 10 all-conference games, went 6-4 and fired head coach Gus Malzahn — the Tigers now know the details regarding their season finale. Auburn has been selected to take on the Northwestern Wildcats in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day.
Following the selection of the two programs to the bowl on Sunday afternoon, Wildcats Coach Pat Fitzgerald and Tigers interim head coach Kevin Steele met with the media to share their thoughts on the conclusion of their respective seasons as well as the matchup ahead of them.
Under the leadership of 15th-year head coach Fitzgerald, Northwestern concluded its regular season with a record of 6-1 before suffering a loss to Ohio State in the Big 10 championship game.
Despite the loss, Fitzgerald is proud of his team and program for their accomplishments throughout the 2020 campaign.
“Just so proud of our players, our staff, everybody associated with our program to go COVID free through the whole regular season and to be big 10 West Division champs,” Fitzgerald said. “They fought and we fought and scratched last night and we just didn't make the plays we needed to make down the stretch in the fourth quarter to be big 10 champions.”
Fitzgerald added that — with the regular season and conference championship behind them — his squad is excited to be making the trip to Orlando with the opportunity to build on its current streak of bowl wins.
“Our guys are excited to play,” Fitzgerald said. “We've got a lot to play for; we've won three straight bowl games.”
The Citrus Bowl will be the second ever meeting between the Tigers and the Wildcats and will serve as an opportunity for Northwestern to achieve redemption from the lone previous matchup, the 2010 Outback Bowl where Fitzgerald’s squad fell to Gene Chizik’s Tigers 38-35.
The head coach says he remembers the positives of the game well, but tries to block out the negative takeaways.
“Well, I’m a lot older now so I try to, you know...all the negatives are gone,” Fitzgerald said. “Just amazing performances by so many of our players. I think Caprica broke a bunch of records that day, if I'm not mistaken.”
For Auburn interim head coach Kevin Steele and company, the 2021 installment of the game will present the Tigers with their fifth ranked opponent and the opportunity to win its first game against such opponents since the week one victory over previously ranked Kentucky; however, with an ongoing coaching search within the organization and rumors mentioning Steele as a candidate, the interim head coach made the purpose of the game clear.
“"This is not about Kevin Steele or anybody who sits in that chair,” Steele said. “This is about the players."
Steele also mentioned that, despite his inability to speak to the team in its entirety, the players he has spoken with have all been excited to play.
The Tigers have returned home for the holidays but will return back to The Plains of Auburn early next week to begin preparations for their New Year’s clash with Northwestern.
The 2021 Citrus Bowl will be played inside Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. on January 1. Kickoff between the Tigers and the Wildcats is set for 12:00 p.m. CT.