NCF Nation: 2011 TicketCity Bowl preview

Texas Tech and Northwestern will kick off the New Year's Day bowls from Dallas in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl from the Cotton Bowl at the State Fair of Texas. With the appearance, Texas Tech stretches its streak of no losing seasons to a Big 12-best 18 years.

Here's a look at the matchup.

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield. These two have been intertwined all season, and it won't change on Saturday. Coach Tommy Tuberville says both will play, which isn't necessarily anything new for the Red Raiders. In fact, both played during Texas Tech's best win of the season. Steven Sheffield got his only start of the season against Missouri, but struggled and was replaced by Potts. He rallied his team from a double-digit deficit and helped Texas Tech win three of its final four games to reach bowl eligibility.

WHAT TO WATCH: Texas Tech's defense. The Red Raiders struggled for most of the year defending everything, but especially the pass, where they rank last in the Big 12. Texas Tech is at the bottom in total defense, too. Northwestern will be starting Evan Watkins in place of injured, do-everything quarterback Dan Persa, but if the Red Raiders can right the ship against the inexperienced Watkins, they could win easily. Northwestern was blown out by Illinois and Wisconsin in its final two games. Complicating matters for Texas Tech is its situation at defensive coordinator. Defensive line coach Sam McElroy will take over for this game after James Willis left the program on Sunday.

WHY WATCH: There should be plenty of what fans like to see: offense. Even though Northwestern was blown out in those two games, it scored 27 and 23 points, giving up 48 and 70. Texas Tech's offense hasn't been consistent all year, but against the Wildcats defense, the Red Raiders should have some success. Potts has a pair of 800-yard receivers in Detron Lewis and Lyle Leong, and an 800-yard rusher in experienced senior Baron Batch.

PREDICTION: Texas Tech 38, Northwestern 27. I have my doubts about Watkins' ability to make plays in big spots like Persa did this year, and against a playmaking offense like the Red Raiders have, converting a few of those inevitable third-and-longs is necessary. Texas Tech should be able to do it. Northwestern won't.
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.