Northwestern Wildcats (7-5) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5)
Jan. 1, noon ET (ESPNU)
Northwestern take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern’s season will officially end Jan. 1 in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl against Texas Tech. The bigger question: Did the Wildcats’ campaign already come to a close back on Nov. 13?
Northwestern has looked extremely shaky since losing star quarterback Dan Persa to a season-ending ruptured Achilles’ tendon in a Nov. 13 win against Iowa. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats have struggled on offense as backup quarterback Evan Watkins goes through some growing pains. The more shocking backslide has come on defense, as Northwestern surrendered 118 points, 848 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in losses to Illinois and Wisconsin. Missed tackles became a big problem down the stretch, and Pat Fitzgerald’s crew needs to get things rectified against a Texas Tech squad that ranks among the top 20 in both passing and total yards.
Bowl practices will be valuable for Watkins, who had attempted only seven passes before taking over the starting job on Nov. 20. The redshirt freshman could use a boost from the ground game, although top running back Mike Trumpy is questionable for the game after fracturing his wrist against Illinois. Northwestern needs to find a way to establish an offensive rhythm and keep the high-powered Texas Tech attack on the sideline.
After two near misses in bowls the last two years, Northwestern aims for its first postseason victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl. This one would qualify as an upset.
The Red Raiders offense has been inconsistent this season, but it still boasts two experienced, senior quarterbacks in starter Taylor Potts and backup Steven Sheffield, who saw time this year and a start, despite losing a preseason quarterback battle. Receiver Lyle Leong is also a player to watch; his 17 touchdown catches are second only to Biletnikoff Award finalist Justin Blackmon.
The in-state Red Raiders should have the advantage in an atmosphere with a substantial amount of alumni not needing to leave the Dallas city limits to see Texas Tech play. They’ve already played in the Cotton Bowl once this season, facing Baylor back in October.