Being a key contributor on winning teams isn't something Godwin Igwebuike takes for granted.
After helping the Pickerington High School North football team finish 8-2 in 2011 and a program-best 12-2 in 2012 when he was named Division I district Offensive Player of the Year as a senior, Igwebuike began his college career at Northwestern.
Things have gone much better for Igwebuike and the Wildcats since they endured back-to-back 5-7 finishes in 2013 when he redshirted and 2014 when he became a part-time starter at safety.
Northwestern bounced back with a 10-3 record in 2015, finished 7-6 last season and is 9-3 heading into the Music City Bowl on Dec. 29 in Nashville, Tennessee.
"We've definitely added some talent the last three years, but I know one thing is that the culture of the team has kind of shifted since we went 5-7 my first year," Igwebuike said. "When I came here, there was kind of a division with the underclassmen and the upperclassmen. Now it's more like a family. We have fun with each other and we grind together all offseason, getting (to workouts) at 5:45 (a.m.)."
Igwebuike, who is one of numerous college players from central Ohio whose teams will be competing in bowl games over the coming weeks, helped the Wildcats close the regular season on a seven-game winning streak. The streak included wins over Iowa (17-10 on Oct. 21), Michigan State (39-31 on Oct. 28) and Purdue (23-13 on Nov. 11), all of which will be playing in bowl games.
Northwestern beat Pittsburgh 31-24 in the Pinstripe Bowl last season for just the third bowl win in program history.
Igwebuike played on both sides of the ball with North, rushing for 1,981 yards and 25 touchdowns and having five interceptions as a senior, but he's been a defensive back throughout his college career.
After recording 51 tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2014, Igwebuike had 87 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss in 2015 and 108 tackles and six tackles for loss last season. He has 72 tackles and 11 pass deflections this season.
"It's been a blast," Igwebuike said. "It's a lot more fun when you're winning. My goal has always been to be one of the top defensive backs in the Big Ten."
Igwebuike, who is hoping to be selected in the NFL draft in the spring, could end up going head to head against another central Ohio player in the Music City Bowl in Westerville Central graduate Benny Snell.
Snell, a sophomore running back for Kentucky, rushed for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago and has had an even better season this year, rushing for 1,318 yards and 18 scores.
Another Westerville Central graduate, Charles Moushey, has been a contributor on special teams for Kentucky, which is 7-5.
*ON THE BIG STAGE -- The only central Ohio player who could end this season celebrating a national championship is 2013 Reynoldsburg graduate Emmanuel Beal, a senior linebacker for Oklahoma.
On Jan. 1, the Sooners will take a 12-1 record into their College Football Playoff semifinal against Georgia (12-1) in the Rose Bowl.
The winner plays for the national championship Jan. 8 in Atlanta against Clemson (12-1) or Alabama (11-1), which are playing in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.
Beal is in his second season with Oklahoma after playing two seasons for Lackawanna, a community college in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. He has 89 tackles, six tackles for loss and one interception this season.
Wisconsin and Ohio State also have players from central Ohio who will help them try to win New Year's Six bowl games.
Pickerington Central graduate Seth Currens has been contributing on special teams for Wisconsin, which is 12-1 entering the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 against the University of Miami (10-2).
Ohio State, which is 11-2 entering the Cotton Bowl Classic on Dec. 29 against Southern California (11-2), has 13 players from central Ohio. Among them are linebacker Malik Harrison (Walnut Ridge), wide receiver C.J. Saunders (Dublin Coffman) and defensive lineman Jonathon Cooper (Gahanna).
*MAC POWER -- Toledo won its first Mid-American Conference championship since 2004 when it beat Akron 45-28 on Dec. 2.
The Rockets, who are 11-2, will get a rematch with Appalachian State (8-4) in the Dollar General Bowl on Dec. 23 in Mobile, Alabama, after losing to the Mountaineers 31-28 in last year's Camellia Bowl.
Senior linebacker Ja'Wuan Woodley, a 2013 Hartley graduate, has been a key player for the Rockets since 2015. He had 79 tackles and 13 tackles for loss a season ago and has 59 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, four pass deflections and one interception this season.
Toledo won bowl games in 2014 when Woodley was a backup and 2015.
"Everybody on this team is just more focused on being together," Woodley said. "The goal every year has been to go out on top. I'm going to be graduating (in late December) and then I'm going to be training for the NFL."
Another key contributor the last four seasons for the Rockets has been 2013 Hilliard Bradley graduate Brad Spelman, a long snapper who originally was planning to attend Tennessee before deciding to walk on at Toledo. After redshirting in 2013, he's played in all 50 of the Rockets' games the last four seasons.
"It's been phenomenal to be a Rocket the last five years, especially for a program that wins like we do," Spelman said. "The bowl games are like icing on the cake. I'm a senior so I'm really going to cherish the next couple of weeks. To win the MAC championship my senior year is really, really awesome."
Akron, which is 7-6 and will play Florida Atlantic (10-3) in the Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 19, has seven players from central Ohio.
Among them are DeSales graduate Warren Ball, a running back who has rushed for 361 yards and four touchdowns, and Reynoldsburg graduate Ibrahima Camara, who has 36 tackles as a defensive lineman.
Ohio University, which beat Toledo 38-10 on Nov. 8, is 8-4 entering the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 22 against Alabama Birmingham (8-4).
Pickerington Central graduate Andrew Meyer is third on the Bobcats in receptions with 29 for 433 yards and two touchdowns, and Grove City graduate Chad Moore, a redshirt senior linebacker, is third for OU with 74 tackles and also has 4.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions.
"It's been a great season," said Moore, who was a walk-on for one season before earning a scholarship. "In the past, our chemistry wasn't the greatest, but now we have great chemistry. It helps when you want to play next to the players next to you. It's been a great last two years."