Northwestern went 9-3 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten this season. The Bulldogs were 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the SEC. Mississippi State has lost four of its five games.
Leading up to the weekend, Northwestern was unsure where it would end up for a bowl. There were a couple of possibilities, including the Capital One Bowl, on the table. Nebraska, which lost the Big Ten title game to Wisconsin on Saturday, was selected for the Capital One Bowl.
"At the end of the day, these bowl selections are just that," Northwestern athletic Jim Phillips said on Sunday. "They're really at the discretion of the bowls. There's no birth order to this thing. There's no, 'You deserve to be at a certain place or a certain destination.' It is really a selection and comes down to the bowls.
"We're excited. I can't tell you how excited we're about the opportunity in Jacksonville."
For the Wildcats, they'll be making their fifth consecutive trip to a bowl game. Northwestern will be looking for a different result than its past nine bowl games. The Wildcats' last bowl victory came in a 20-14 win over California in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1949.
Last season, coach Pat Fitzgerald used a stuffed monkey to represent the monkey on Northwestern's back when it came to the bowl draught. He wasn't sure Sunday if he'd do something similar this season.
"Yeah, maybe, I don't know," Fitzgerald said. "I'll get the creative juices going. I have some traveling to do recruiting-wise."