Holiday Bowl Preview, Prediction: #22 Northwestern Wildcats vs #17 Utah Utes

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Since 2014, the Holiday Bowl has featured a matchup of Pac-12 and Big Ten teams, making it a sort of junior varsity version of the Rose Bowl. It’s kind of like how San Diego is the j.v. version of Los Angeles in some ways. That’s not meant to be a slam, San Diego is an awesome city.

The 2018 edition of the Holiday Bowl features a match-up of the teams that lost the Big 10 (#22 Northwestern Wildcats) and Pac 12 (#17 Utah Utes) championship games. The winners of those two conference title games, Ohio State and Washington, will meet in the Rose Bowl the next day. So really, this year more than ever, the Holiday Bowl is a quasi-opening act for the Granddaddy of them all.

Or it’s really difficult not to see it that way, once you look at the whole picture.

Holiday Bowl Kickoff: see graphic above, SDCCU Stadium, televised on FS1

Holiday Bowl Spread: Utah -7 (Vegas Insider Consensus)

This is really mind-boggling. It’s almost as if the sports books want to do a major favor to Northwestern here. If you followed the Wildcats at all this season, then you’re acutely aware of how well they often play as underdogs; and conversely how poorly they sometimes play as favorites.

Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald, the Big Ten Coach of the Year, has had no problem harnessing the disbelief of the doubters into motivation, and thus victories, for his team. It is puzzling though how the bookmakers still made a line like this given a.) how the Pac 12 and Big 10 performed in bowls last season and

b.) the results when the two conferences played each other in bowl games last season.

utah-utes

Utah Utes Synopsis: 

Ah, so this is why the bookies are big on the Utes. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has a career record of 11-1 in bowl games. Utah also won the two BCS bowl games that they played in when the Bowl Championship Series, not the playoff, was a thing. The Utes claimed victory in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl over Pitt and the 2009 Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Yes, they actually beat Bama!

The Utes, who have gone 9-4 this season, rank #43 in offensive S&P+, #22 in defensive S&P+ and #7 in special teams S&P+. They will enter this game fired up to end the season on a more positive note, as their last outing was an unwatchable, brutally ugly 10-3 loss to Washington in the Pac 12 title game.

Half of the Utes losses this season came at the hands of the conference champion Huskies.

northwestern

Northwestern Wildcats Synopsis: 

The Big Ten championship game was kind of the Cats’ bowl game already this season, so getting up for game #14 could be a challenge. However, for reasons previously stated, we don’t think that will be an issue. NU is looking to make going to Indianapolis the new normal going forward, and given the disappointing result in Indy, the Wildcats, similarly to Utah, will be looking to end the season with positive momentum.

It’s long overdue, especially when you consider how consistent his teams have been over the years at a.) getting better as the season goes along b.) winning on the road and c.) winning conference games as they are now 15-1 in their last 16 road games.

They went 5-0 on the road this season setting a program record with eight consecutive road wins dating back to last term.

pat fitzgerald

Holiday Bowl Prediction: Northwestern 24, Utah 16

See that photo above, it’s what motivation and encouragement looks like. After the Wildcats won at Minnesota, Fitz openly discussed how disrespected and shocked both he and his team felt by being branded the underdogs for that contest. Rightfully so, as those spreads were ridiculous.

Likewise for the game at Iowa which saw the Cats clinch the Big Ten West division. It’s understandable that NU might be underdogs for that game, but double digits? That was a bit much. Being dogs again here will motivate the Cats to victory.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation. 

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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