On New Year’s Day, the Vrbo Citrus Bowl will take place in Orlando, Florida with Auburn Tigers (6-4) taking on Northwestern Wildcats (6-2) in a game that is a repeat of the dramatic 2010 Outback Bowl game, that saw Auburn hold off a late comeback from Northwestern to land a 38-35 victory in overtime.
The game serves as a perfect prelude to the College Playoff Semifinals that take place later in the day and if the game is anywhere near as exciting as that 2010 clash, then those that tune in to watch will be in for a treat.
This will be Auburn’s sixth appearance in the Citrus Bowl, but their first since 2003. That is a record held jointly with Georgia, Michigan, Penn State and Florida for the most appearances in the fixture.
For the Wildcats, this is their second appearance in the match, their first saw them lose 48-28 to Tennessee back in 1997 when their current head coach Pat Fitzgerald, played linebacker in the game against a Tennessee offense led by future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning.
Final Hurrah for Steele as Auburn Interim Coach?
Auburn had begun the 2020 SEC season with ambitions to compete strongly in the division and
with hopes of participating in the SEC Championship game. However, a week two 27-6 loss to Georgia cast doubt on those hopes and on week four a devastating 30-22 loss to South Carolina Gamecocks, who would win only two games all season, effectively ended Auburn’s championship dreams.
Further losses to Alabama and Texas A&M followed and after a 6-4 season, former coach Gus Malsahn was dismissed.
Kevin Steele was appointed interim head coach and had hoped to get the job permanently. However, the Tigers have snapped up Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin instead.
Wildcats Bounce Back in 2020 under Fitzgerald
After going 3-9 in 2019 and not qualifying any bowl game, head coach Pat Fitzgerald stated in an end of season press conference that his team would surprise a few in 2020 and play for a Big Ten Championship.
After winning the Big Ten Western Conference with a 6-1 record, and then playing Ohio State in the Championship game, losing 22-10, even those two defeats cannot take the gloss of what has been a successful and impressive season for the Northwestern Wildcats.
Built on Mike Hankwitz solid defense, the Wildcats will want to give their defensive coordinator the W in his final game before retirement after he has spent the last 13 seasons at Northwestern.
What do the bookmakers think for the Vrbo Citrus Bowl?
It is somewhat strange to see Auburn, who have been one of the powerhouses in College football in recent years, playing in this game and in truth, the bookmakers do not fancy their chances of landing a victory in this game either.
A quick check of the latest odds with DraftKings Online Sportsbook reveals that they have the Wildcats as the -3.5 favourites to win the game. Back them to win on the moneyline and the Wildcats are -175, while Auburn are the longer odds option at +140.
What is our take on the game?
There is a real feeling that there are sweeping changes happening at Auburn right now and that it may take the team a couple of years or two to get back to their best. Northwestern will come into this game with a point to prove and I think the odds are good that they will claim the win here.
Pat Fitzgerald always has his team in great shape and ready to play hard and I think that may well be the difference here. I expect the Wildcats defense to be the key to lead them to a narrow victory, perhaps by a 27-23 scoreline.