Northwestern was invited to the TicketCity Bowl after posting a 7–5 record in the regular season. The Wildcats made a school-record third-consecutive bowl appearance. The Wildcats had not won a bowl game since defeating California in the 1949 Rose Bowl. They fell to Auburn, 38–35, in overtime of the Outback Bowl last season. Northwestern has gone 0–2 since losing starting quarterback Dan Persa to a season-ending injury.
Texas Tech finished the regular season with a 7–5 record. The Red Raiders lost to three ranked opponents, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas, and defeated one, Missouri. They were on a two-game winning streak leading into the bowl game. Tech was ranked #24 in Jeff Sagarin's BCS computer ranking heading into the bowl matchup. This was the Raiders' eleventh-straight bowl game. They have gone 6–2 in their last eight bowl games, including defeating Michigan State in last year's Alamo Bowl 41–31.
Northwestern made its first appearance in a bowl game at the Cotton Bowl, while Texas Tech playing in its fifth bowl at the Stadium. The two teams had never played each other in the history of their programs. With the win, Tech won their first bowl game at the Cotton Bowl after failing the past four times in a drought that had began in 1939.