Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is calling the Wildcats' trip to Houston for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas a "road game," and you can see why.

The opponent will be Texas A&M, located 100 miles from bowl site Reliant Stadium.


Then again, Fitzgerald estimates he has visited Houston 100 times, mostly while recruiting.

"I know Houston probably better than I know Chicago," he said. "You name two towns, I can tell you how to go without GPS."

The Wildcats continue to seek directions for winning a bowl game.

They're 0-8 since the 1949 Rose Bowl, and ending that streak Dec. 31 will provide Texas-sized motivation.

"To leave with a bowl win," senior offensive tackle Al Netter said, "would mean everything to us."

The task got tougher with the news that Jordan Mabin, the team's only reliable cornerback, will be out with what is believed to be a shoulder injury.

"We all feel for him," safety Brian Peters said. "That's rough stuff for a senior, and he leaves big shoes to fill."

Like Northwestern, the Aggies finished 6-6. Unlike Northwestern, they fired their coach, Mike Sherman, after they lost four of their last five games.

Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will coach A&M in the bowl game, leaving the Aggies offense as something of a mystery.

"It's a huge advantage for A&M, no question about that," Fitzgerald said. "(But) they can't change that much in a month."

Northwestern jumped 9-3 Penn State in the Big Ten bowl hierarchy and held off 6-6 Purdue and 6-6 Illinois to earn the selection. Heather Houston, executive director of the bowl, cited the relationship-building efforts of NU athletic director Jim Phillips and the Wildcats' strong turnout for last season's game at Rice.

Fitzgerald said the Wildcats are "ecstatic" to be playing in Houston, home to five NU players.

Quarterback Dan Persa joked that the rest of the team has gotten tired of hearing the Houston Five (Demetrius Dugar, Will Hampton, David Nwabuisi, Christian Jones and Venric Mark) brag about their roots.

Said Peters: "I don't know if it was the best bowl possible, but it's pretty close."

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