- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Big Ten's five-pack of bowl games on New Year's Day kicks off in Dallas, as Northwestern takes on Texas Tech in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl.
Let's take a look at the matchup.
WHO TO WATCH: Northwestern quarterback Evan Watkins. After two rough outings at the end of the regular season, the redshirt freshman has had five weeks to prepare as the Wildcats' starter. Watkins must cut down his turnovers and show better touch on his passes to drive Northwestern's spread offense, which is based around rhythm and the short passing game. Texas Tech struggles on defense and recently had to replace its coordinator, so Watkins should have opportunities to attack. True freshman Kain Colter also could see some time at quarterback.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Wildcats' defensive back seven. Tackling has been a problem for Northwestern at times this season, and the defense got back to the basics in bowl prep. Texas Tech puts a lot of pressure on individual defenders to make tackles in space, and Northwestern needs strong performances from its veteran linebackers and defensive backs like Brian Peters and Jordan Mabin to have a chance in this game. Without star quarterback Dan Persa, the Wildcats likely can't win an offensive shootout, so it's critical for the linebackers and defensive backs to limit damage.
WHY WATCH: Northwestern has played two of the most exciting bowl games in the past two seasons (2008 Alamo, 2010 Outback), and the Wildcats are still searching for their first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl. Although the program has made significant strides since 1995, its bowl drought is one of few remaining links to the dark days. This would qualify as a pretty significant upset, and it'll be interesting to see if the offense can have success without Persa.
PREDICTION: Texas Tech 35, Northwestern 24. Pat Fitzgerald will have the Wildcats ready to play, but I can't see them beating a team like Texas Tech without Persa calling the signals. Watkins will have some ups and downs, and the defense won't be able to contain Texas Tech's pass attack for four quarters. Northwestern's bowl drought continues for another year.
10hSam Khan Jr. and Derek Tyson