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Northwestern, Tennessee coming to Tampa for Outback Bowl

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The Outback Bowl announced on Sunday that the No. 13 Northwestern Wildcats of the Big 10 will square off against the No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers from the Southeastern Conference on New Year’s Day. The game will mark the second meeting between the schools with Tennessee winning the 1996 Citrus Bowl, 48-28.

Northwestern enters the game with a 10-2 record, finishing second in the Big 10’s West Division. After winning their first five games, they suffered two lopsided losses to Iowa and Michigan, and then rallied to win their last five. The Wildcats’ biggest win came in the first game of the season when they held No. 5 Stanford without a touchdown in a 16-6 victory.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald is in his 10th season at his alma mater and has a 70-55 record. After two losing seasons, he has the Wildcats back in a bowl game.

Northwestern will be making their journey from suburban Chicago for the second time to play in the Outback Bowl. In 2010, they dropped a 38-35 overtime decision to Auburn when a fumble rooskie trick play was stopped just short of the goal line.

Tennessee brings a lot of tradition and will bring a lot of fans to Tampa Bay over the holidays. Many of those fans will know where to go when they get there.

The Volunteers are making their fourth appearance in the Outback Bowl and are 2-1. They beat Boston College in 1993 and Wisconsin in 2008, the year after Penn State defeated the Vols.

Early in 2015, it appeared Tennessee would have no shot at qualifying for a New Year’s Day bowl. After a narrow loss to Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the Volunteers stood at 3-4. They regrouped and closed the season with five straight victories to finish 8-4.

Butch Jones is in his third season as the head coach at Rocky Top. He is 20-17, which includes a big victory over Iowa in last season’s TaxSlayer Bowl, 45-28.

Since the Outback Bowl went with an exclusive Big 10 vs. SEC arrangement, the SEC has won 12 times and the Big 10 has won 8 times.

The Outback Bowl is set for noon on New Year’s Day.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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