Northwestern headed to the Outback Bowl

The days of Northwestern getting passed over for bowl spots are over.

The Wildcats have been selected to the Outback Bowl, where they will face Auburn on Jan. 1 (ESPN, 11 a.m. ET). It marks Northwestern's first New Year's Day bowl appearance since 1997, when it faced Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl, and the school's first in the Outback Bowl.

The selection comes as a bit of a surprise, as Wisconsin finished with a better overall record (9-3 vs. 8-4) and crushed Hawaii 51-10 on Saturday night. But the Badgers' blowout win clearly had no bearing on the decision, while their 33-31 loss to Northwestern on Nov. 21 played a bigger factor.

Last year, the Outback Bowl passed over Northwestern for Iowa, a team that had a worse record and had lost to the Wildcats in Iowa City. Northwestern also was passed over by the Outback in 2000, when it shared the Big Ten title.

Wisconsin will be going to the Champs Sports Bowl for the second consecutive year.

This is a major score for Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, who told me in a text message earlier today that he was "working nonstop" for the team's bowl selection.