The hotels were booked and bags were packed. It seemed all but certain that Northwestern's New Year's destination was sunny Orlando.
All projections had NU meeting familiar foe Texas A&M, which it played in the Texas Bowl. The two teams, now vastly different from last December, would create a memorable matchup in the Capital One Bowl. Kain Colter battling Johnny Football? Sign me up.
It seemed unlikely the Capital One Bowl would select Nebraska for a return trip to Orlando, especially after it was humiliated in the Big Ten championship game. The drubbing was an all-time letdown for the Cornhuskers, offering potentially negative effects for a bowl trip.
As a result, the Wildcats were ready for Disney World, Universal Studios, and a great football game. Then came a curveball nobody saw coming.
Jim Delany and Mike Slive have rarely seen eye to eye, but the two commissioners weren't going to let their conference's runners-up fall below the Capital One Bowl. It would be Nebraska and Georgia tussling in Orlando; one team which fell four yards shy of the national championship game and the other losing by 39 points.
The matchup brings two historic legacies to the field, but more importantly to bowl officials, it ensures plenty of revenue to Orlando.
The priority for Delany was to save face for his conference, ensuring the Leaders' and Legends' Divisions third-ranked teams weren't in the Big Ten's top two bowl games. It was so important to prevent that, he teamed up with his arch nemesis.
Next up in the Big Ten bowl pecking order was the Outback Bowl. Three years ago, Northwestern delivered an exciting game in Tampa, falling one yard short of beating Auburn. Another thriller in front of the Raymond James Stadium pirate ship would tantalize purple-clad fans. But in reality, Michigan is a better draw than Northwestern.
The bowl snubs hit Northwestern fans like a right hook. A stay in Jacksonville doesn't feel the same after being dropped down the totem pole.
NU head man Pat Fitzgerald offered perspective on dropping to the Gator Bowl.
"We got what we earned," he simply stated.
The injection of reality is numbing to Northwestern fans. When the Wildcats dropped the victory-clinching interception against Nebraska, and could not prevent Michigan's Hail Mary weeks later, they lost the opportunity to complain about Sunday's bowl bumping.
No matter what its administrators say, college football is driven by television revenue and ticket sales. The "student-athletes" are pawns that play the games.
It will be painted by Capital One Bowl officials as their selection to invite Nebraska and Georgia to Orlando, but that's not true. The decision was driven by two of the game's most powerful men, Jim Delany and Mike Slive. Even the extremely likeable Jim Phillips couldn't jockey his program to the top.
The Wildcats had the chance to ride Space Mountain, but let it slip away. NU doesn't deserve a better bowl.