Northwestern vs. Texas Tech: Brutally Honest Ticket City Bowl Preview


NU cheerleaders

The college football game formerly known as the Dallas Football Classic is a pretty even-Stephen (like Colbert, a Northwestern alum) match on paper.

Same exact conference and overall records for both teams. Both programs don’t care much to run the ball, and they each have only one good win among their seven. Which is funny because the two teams they beat in those games (Iowa Hawkeyes, Missouri Tigers) played in a bowl a few days ago. Iowa beat Mizzou- good omen for NU?

Forget the double digit spread, this ballgame is a “pick’em.”

By Paul M. Banks

Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) Synopsis: The Ticket City Bowl is tough to size up because in one corner you have… a ‘Cats team missing their MVP and all-everything QB Dan Persa (torn Achilles); and quite possibly their top three rushers. Also, their defense gave up 118 points in their last two games. And they haven’t won a bowl since four years after WWII. For more NU bowl history go here.

But in the other corner you have…the worst pass defense in all FBS taking on a very pass happy team, a team ranking 116/120 in total defense,  and we’re not really sure how interested their coach is in this game/his school is interested in him.

How well NU stops Tech depends on their “Q Rating.” Linebacker Quentin Davie needs to have a huge game when he straps on the pads for the final time in college football. He talked about the biggest challenge his unit faces on Saturday.

“We need to contain them and minimize the big plays. You know that Texas Tech is going to get passing yards, we just have to do our jobs,” he said.

Redshirt freshman tailback Mike Trumpy fractured his wrist against the Illini in the Wrigleyville Classic. He’s the team’s leading rusher with 530 yards and four touchdowns. Persa is #2, and the team’s third leading rusher Arby Fields has left the program.

Trumpy will be a game-time decision, coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the team’s final practice in Evanston. So he’ll probably play; this is a bowl game after all. Trumpy at 70-80% is still a better option than Fields at 100%. But in Arby’s defense, he was one of the best “east-west runners” (instead of north-south, the forward progress direction) in program history.

QB Evan Watkins will get his third career start and he’ll look early and often for Jeremy Ebert, who led the Big Ten with 919 receiving yards. A new wrinkle will be third-stringer Kain Colter, who will see a few series.

He’s faster than Watkins, and even Persa, but he’s quite rough around the edges as a passer. It’ll be interesting to see how a Tech team in transition on their defensive coaching staff adjusts to this.

The absence of Persa, eighth in the FBS with 310.0 total yards per game, was noticeable on offense down the stretch as the Wildcats suffered two bad losses to end the year. But ironically it was the defense that fell off a cliff once he was gone. Maybe it was a match-up thing.

But know this: Fitz is one of the best coaching minds in the Big Ten. He’ll have something special planned.

Fitz talked Wednesday about getting it done for his seniors.

“You have to focus in the moment and enjoy the game. They’ve gone through this already as a high school player. The tough pill to swallow, however, is the fact that this may be the last time that many of our seniors ever play a football game again.”


Texas Tech (7-5, 4-4) Synopsis:

Tech will have a new defensive coordinator in Sam McElroy. The Red Raiders’ defensive line coach replaces James Willis, who left the program Sunday to join Will Muschamp’s new Florida Gators regime.

“We had a situation here at the start of the week when we were preparing for the bowl with some staff changes where we did a bit of shuffling around where I will call the game on Saturday, but it is going to be a group effort. We have a great defensive staff, a bunch of good guys, and more importantly, we have a bunch of good players. They are focused. We have had great practices from the time we reported and have continued that this week,” McElroy said Wednesday.

The Red Raiders, just like last year at this time, are dealing with another type of possible defection. Tommy Tuberville took over after Mike Leach was fired before the 41-31 victory over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. You might remember why- that whole (with apologies to Chicagoan R.Kelly)  “trapped in the closet” thing.

But these are not the Raiders of Leach, Wes Welker, Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. The current TTU leadership lacks the Social Darwinist and hard-line tactics that made Woody Hayes look as warm and cuddly by comparison. But that’s a good thing. Tuberville had been rumored as a candidate for the Miami job before the school hired Al Golden on Dec. 12, and he may have eyes for another program right now.

Senior quarterback Taylor Potts helped Texas Tech rank eighth in the FBS in passing with 314.8 yards per game while averaging 32.1 points.

Potts’ former teammate at Abilene High School, Lyle Leong had a team-high 808 receiving yards and is second in the nation with 17 TD catches. If those yardage numbers don’t seem gaudy enough for Tech’s “throw it up 60-70 times a game” offense, it’s because Potts spreads the wealth around like a socialist. Many different receivers have put up substantial numbers this season.

On the Red Raider defense there’s….uhm, yeah.


Guys you’ll see Saturday eventually playing on Sundays:

On the Wildcats, LB Quentin Davie and superback (tight end/fullback hybrid) Drake Dunsmore And possibly DL Vince Browne in 2012.

I peruse more NFL mock drafts than any human being should, and I have never seen even a trace of a TTU player anywhere. Tailback Brandon Batch has potential; too bad he plays for a school that believes in running the ball about as much as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes in the sovereignty of the nation of Israel.

Prediction to be taken with a grain of salt (actually make that a whole truckload of salt):

TT 38, NU 31 (Banks’ 2010 record 19-8)

The Autumn wind is a Raider
Pillaging just for fun
He’ll knock you ’round and upside down
And laugh when he’s conquered and won.

Yes, this is winter, and that verse above refers to the team from Oakland, not the Lubbock, but I just can’t pcik the Cats without Persa. I’d love to see them ring in the New Year by ending the drought, but my cognitive dissonance keeps me from predicting it.

On another note, I’ve really LOVED writing these brutally honest game previews in 2010. And my picks record wasn’t too bad. See you again in ’11!

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports, a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

He also does a regular weekly segment on

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