- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every Friday during the season, we took a look at a Big Ten player to watch when the games kicked off Saturday. Now that it's bowl season, we're picking a player to watch in the league's postseason action.
Bowl selection: Northwestern RB Venric Mark
Bowl assignment: vs. Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1, Noon ET, ESPN2
You could say that no team has more riding on bowl season than the Wildcats.
Northwestern has won only one bowl in its history and none since 1948. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has called the nine-game losing streak the one lingering negative surrounding the program, and he went so far as to take a stuffed monkey to last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl, hoping to symbolically get that monkey off the team's back. It did not work.
The Wildcats have had some tough bowl matchups of late, but this year's against 8-4 Mississippi State looks winnable, even if Northwestern fans are bummed their 9-3 team fell to the Gator Bowl. A victory would also give the Wildcats a 10-win season and set this young team up well for next year. No matter the location or the opponent, Northwestern simply needs to win a bowl game, and that's where Mark comes in.
The running back is the team's most dynamic playmaker, who had 1,315 rushing yards this season. Mississippi State ranked just 70th in the country in defending the run, so there should be some opportunities there for Mark to get loose. Mark was banged up a bit toward the end of the season, not surprising for a guy who's only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds after a full season. But the month off should allow him -- along with quarterback Kain Colter -- to get healed up and have fresh legs for New Year's Day.
Northwestern was 4-0 this season when Mark had at least 120 yards rushing. If he can have that kind of performance against the Bulldogs, the Wildcats will have a great chance to finally get rid of that monkey.