Big Ten: 2012 Car Care Bowl

EVANSTON, Ill. — Dan Persa wants his legacy at Northwestern to go beyond wins and losses and individual records.

More than anything, Persa hopes he has helped change the way Wildcats players approach their craft. The quarterback set an example early in his career as the team's top weight-room performer and reinforced his reputation as the team's hardest worker while rehabbing a ruptured Achilles' tendon during the winter, spring and summer.

[+] EnlargeDan Persa
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireSenior QB Dan Persa will try to guide the Wildcats to their first bowl win since 1949.
"My outlook is there's always going to be somebody better out there, and you're going to have to outwork somebody if you want to go anywhere," Persa told after Monday's practice. "You can't just show up. That's the kind of thing I wanted to leave, making football a priority and finding a way to give it everything you've got and never regretting, 'Man, I wish I did this or did that.'

"Just do it all."

Persa has done plenty during his time at Northwestern, particularly in the last two seasons as the team's starting quarterback. He has seen changes in the team's dedication to the game, and expects those to continue after he has departed the program.

But has Persa been rewarded for all his hard work?

After carrying the team through the first 10 games last fall, Persa watched from the sideline as Northwestern suffered blowout losses against Illinois and Wisconsin, and then dropped the TicketCity Bowl to Texas Tech. This year he dealt with lingering effects from the Achilles' as well as other ailments, and still led the Big Ten in passing average (240.3) and led the nation in completion percentage (74.2).

Yet the team went 6-6, largely because of a defense that couldn't get off of the field.

"That's a tough question for me to answer," Persa said when asked if he deserved more. "Obviously, it's disappointing the way we lost six games this year, but I don't know. I'm more worried about we could have done more than whatever our rewards would have been."

There's still one more reward out there, a bowl win, Northwestern's first since the 1949 Rose. Persa wraps up his college career Saturday against Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

The senior says he's as healthy as he has been all season, benefiting from the added time without a game.

"We've got one more chapter of the book, one more story to tell," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "The body of work at this point speaks for itself, but to be the quarterback and to be the leader who gets the 63-year-old monkey off our back would be one heck of a final chapter to, in my opinion, a career that has been pretty magical and pretty special."

Persa is on track to set several individual milestones in the bowl game. He needs just 32 pass yards for 5,000 in his career and 277 total offensive yards for 6,000 in his career. His career passing efficiency mark of 157.47 would rank first in Big Ten history, ahead of Ohio State's Troy Smith (157.1 rating), and first in NCAA history among quarterbacks who completed 400-499 career passes.

Most impressive, he should set the NCAA's all-time career completion percentage record even if he has a miserable performance in Houston. Persa, who has a career completions rate of 73 percent, needs 19 attempts to meet the minimum qualifying standard for pass attempts per game. He could fail to complete any of the 19 passes and still break Colt Brennan's NCAA completions record (70.4 percent). Persa hasn't completed less than 62 percent of his passes since being named the starter, so as long as he attempts 19 passes against the Aggies, he'll get the record.

While Persa admits it would be "cool" to have the record, he'd much rather go out a winner. He hasn't won his last game since his freshman year of high school, as his high school team lost the state title in both his junior and senior seasons.

"Walking off the field and being happy with what we left behind in the last game, it'd mean a lot," he said.

Football can be an unforgiving game, and Persa's senior season hasn't gone according to script. But he still has a chance to go out as a winner.

"As the leader," Fitzgerald said, "that would be a heck of a way to finish for him."

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

December, 4, 2011
Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)

Texas A&M take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Aggies are in a state of turmoil. They have no coach and the players are understandably shaken up about it. Mike Sherman was loved around College Station, and his super classy exit press conference showed all the reasons why. Ultimately, Texas A&M's much-ballyhooed second-half failures ended Sherman's tenure as the head Aggie. The numbers are well-known by now, but still staggering. They tell the story of how a preseason top 10 team with as much talent as any in the Big 12 ends up at 6-6. Five halftime leads of double digits and another by nine against rival Texas. All were losses.

That doesn't change the talent on the field. Running back Cyrus Gray will likely return from injury, as will quarterback Ryan Tannehill with top targets Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller. They'll play with an offensive line that has some legit NFL talent, a credit to Sherman's recruiting acumen as a coach with an offensive line background. Texas A&M is already assured of leaving the Big 12 with a bitter taste en route to the SEC next season, but a bowl win might help ... if only a little bit.

Northwestern take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern will play in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive year, but the Wildcats are still looking for that elusive postseason win after a disappointing 2011 campaign.

As players and coaches often are reminded, Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose. The Wildcats have come close the past three seasons, particularly in the 2010 Outback Bowl, but they’ve fallen short each time. While Texas A&M’s motivation might be a question mark after its recent coaching change, Northwestern will be geared up.

The good news is that unlike last year, Northwestern will have top quarterback Dan Persa on the field for its bowl. Although Persa didn’t look nearly as dominant this season as he did in 2010, he still led the Big Ten in passing (240.3 ypg) and completed 74.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions. Persa and the offense will need to put up points as Northwestern’s defense has struggled mightily this season and in the recent bowl losses. The Wildcats will be without top cornerback Jordan Mabin against Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his talented group of receivers.

This will be a virtual road game for Northwestern in Houston, as Texas A&M fans will pack Reliant Stadium. But Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.