Auburn (6-4) squares off with Northwestern (6-2) to ring in the new year of 2021 on January 1st at noon CST. The Tigers will be transitioning from the Gus Malzahn era to the Bryan Harsin era, although current defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will act as the interim head coach for the Tigers in the Citrus Bowl. Auburn is making their record-tying sixth appearance in this particular bowl game.
Northwestern enters the bowl game coming off a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game. The Wildcats earned their spot in that game by winning the Big Ten western division. The Wildcats are an extremely strong defensive team, especially against a pass attack. Northwestern leads the nation limiting opposing offenses to 182.3 yards per game through the air. The Wildcats have also pulled down 14 interceptions this season. On defense, the Wildcats are led by consensus first team All-American safety Brandon Joseph, as well as a pair of senior linebackers, Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher, who are tied for the team lead in tackles with 74. Fisher is the NCAA's active leader in both career tackles and forced fumbles with 392 and 11 respectively. Offensively, quarterback Peyton Ramsey leads the charge for the Wildcats. Ramaud Chiaokhiao leads the team with 55.9 receiving yards per contest. The Wildcats use a running back committee with no back averaging more than 40 yards a game, but as a team they churn out just north of 162 yards a game.
On the Auburn side, there is some question about which players will or will not play. Reportedly, Anthony Schwartz and Christian Tutt opted out of the game. Roger McCreary is expected to be unavailable for Friday's game and reports also say that Jamien Sherwood, who reportedly opted out earlier this month, has chnaged his mind and traveled with the team to Orlando. Tank Bigsby is questionable for the game and Kevin Steele indicated there might be other Auburn players out for either injury or COVID reasons.
The Auburn Tigers had a rough start to the season, not to mention the year. A worldwide pandemic has put a damper on the collegiate season as a whole, and to add onto that their star player was forced to sit for 11 games. But with Sharife Cooper finally on the court, what has he brought to the table for the Tigers?