Northwestern Wildcats (8-5) vs. Utah Utes (9-4)
Monday, 12/31, 7pm EST, FS1 – SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, CA
Happy holidays! This New Year’s Eve, we all get a special treat as there are actually bowl games played on that day this year. This will feature the 22nd ranked Wildcats facing off against the 17th ranked Utes, and the next-to-last football game of the calendar year should be a good one.
How They Got Here: Northwestern
Northwestern is hoping to extend their streak of consecutive bowl wins to three, coming off a Music City Bowl victory last year. The Wildcats started their season 1-3 including tough losses to Akron and Duke, but bounced back after an upset win over Michigan State. This team won the Big Ten West in a pretty unimpressive year from the division, and their other three losses came to teams ranked in the top ten nationally.
Fifth year senior quarterback Clayton Thorson will get some NFL looks and true freshman running back Isaiah Bowser has been very impressive, but the Wildcats still have a middle of the road offense. Though the defense was shredded by Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, in their last five conference games, Northwestern proved stingy, allowing just 14.4 points per game.
How They Got Here: Utah
Utah has a more impressive bowl win streak of its own, winning one each year dating back to 2014. In fact, under the leadership of head coach Kyle Wittingham, the Utes have won 10 of their past 11. To quote wide receiver Samson Nacua, “We don’t lose bowl games.” He’s not wrong.
Utah has won seven of their past eight en route to a Pac-12 South division title. Their season featured two competitive losses to ninth-ranked Washington (regular season and conference championship), and a loss at no. 13 Washington State in which the Utes led most of the game. An interesting storyline to monitor will be the return of starting QB Tyler Huntley. Huntley broke his collarbone midway through the season, but could be available for this game. However, backup Jason Shelley played well in his absence, and Coach Wittingham commented that the quarterback situation remained “to be determined.”
Player to Watch: Paddy Fisher, Northwestern
Although four Ute defenders made the All Pac-12 first team, I’m going to go with Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher as my player to watch.
Fisher’s recorded an impressive 214 career tackles, made the AP All American third team this year and is just a sophomore. He will be all over the field in the Holiday Bowl for the Wildcats, as he has been all season long.
Utah heads in favorited by 7 with the o/u set at 46.
The Wildcats are 6-5-2 against the spread this season, whereas the Utes sit at 7-6.
This could be a fun matchup between two teams with experience and solid defenses. I’ll pick Utah to take this one in San Diego and continue their recent history of bowl success. Utah 24, Northwestern 20