Pack the suntan oil and the short-sleeved shirts. And don't forget the bathing suits. Northwestern won't be home for the holidays.
Officially, the Wildcats still have to wait. But unofficially, after overcoming a two-touchdown deficit and a wild finish to beat Illinois, 17-14, Saturday, the No. 8 Wildcats are all but in a bowl game.
And they know it.
"Tell them we're going somewhere warm for Christmas. I don't have a guarantee but we've got pretty good percentages," Coach Gary Barnett said after his team's fourth road victory and seventh overall.
"I think we've pretty much locked ourselves into a bowl game and now it's up to us which one we go to," said Darnell Autry, who gained 100 yards for the ninth consecutive game and scored the winning touchdown on a one-yard run with about six minutes left.
Northwestern (7-1) rallied from a 14-0 deficit to stay atop the Big Ten with a 5-0 mark. The Wildcats' only bowl appearance came in the 1949 Rose Bowl, a 20-14 victory over California.
Illinois (3-4, 1-3) moved into position to win or at least tie in the closing minutes before Eric Collier intercepted a desperation pass by Scott Weaver in the end zone with seven seconds remaining.
"We could have let this one slip away," Barnett said.
Weaver's 37-yard pass to Jason Dulick on fourth down gave Illinois a first down at the Northwestern 18 with 1:07 left. But the Illini, looking confused, mismanaged the clock.
They ran a play for a yard and then Matt Rice sacked Weaver for a 13-yard loss on second down, knocking the clock down to 26 seconds. After a timeout for each team, Weaver fumbled the snap and was sacked again but Illinois was also called for holding on the play.
The Wildcats took the penalty and, on third-and-37 from the 45, Weaver rolled out and heaved the ball into the end zone where Collier jumped up to pick it off.
"When Dulick caught the ball we were ahead of schedule and then it disintegrated on us," Illinois Coach Lou Tepper said. "We didn't handle the at-the-line calls, we had a holding penalty, we had a sack. We didn't give ourselves a chance to win."
Autry carried 41 times for 151 yards, including 10 carries for 37 yards on the game-winning drive.