What does a football program do for an encore after snapping a nine-game bowl losing streak that spanned the course of 64 years?
Why, aim higher of course.
That's just the plan for the folks at Northwestern, who were, no surprise here, sky-high after defeating Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.
"Chicago's Big Ten team is going to come back as Chicago's Big Ten champions," a jubilant coach Pat Fitzgerald said after Tuesday's victory. "And season tickets went on sale today. So we're already in 2013, so let's get to work."
Fitzgerald's players were certainly buying what he was selling.
"It's the first step to moving the program on into the future," said tailback Mike Trumpy.
"We got a taste of this and we want to keep going," added senior linebacker David Nwabuisi. "The upperclassmen will pass this on to the next classes and Northwestern is going to win championships.
"You can bet on it."
A pretty bold statement for sure, but the fact is, the future -- at least in the short-term -- looks bright for Wildcat football.
With 14 of their 22 starters returning and a top-40 recruiting class arriving, optimism is high in Evanston. And that doesn't even take into account the funding that is rolling in for a new $220 million indoor sports complex on the lakefront.
"The sky is the limit for where our program can go," said Fitzgerald, who picked up his 50th career victory Tuesday. "We've gotten off to an unbelievable start with our fundraising campaign, and we'll be way ahead of schedule in improving our facilities to where they are currently to the best in the country, in a setting that is unmatched and unparalleled in college football.
"To have that kind of support is just unbelievable and where the future may go for us. So that's exciting."
The biggest hit the Wildcats' offense will take heading into 2013 is on the line, where they will lose starting tackle Patrick Ward along with starting guards Brian Mulroe and Neal Deiters. Wide receiver Demetrius Fields will also not return in 2013.
On defense, key losses include Nwabuisi and DB Jared Carpenter.
With their win in the Gator Bowl, Northwestern hit the 10-win mark for just the third time in program history, not too shabby for a young team which many thought would struggle in 2012.
"I'm incredibly proud with the job our coaching staff did from a standpoint of developing this team," Fitzpatrick told The Score after the team's arrival in Evanston on Wednesday. "We were very young to start the year. Our guys allowed us to coach them and develop them a little bit.
"They really came together in the off-season. Our seniors did such a tremendous job bringing our team together, just building the chemistry.
"I promise you this: that will be our focus in the off-season -- just continue to get better and improve."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.