By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA postseason kicks off December 19 with 34 games being played in a three week span. Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side, in the hopes of improving recruiting that follows afterwards. The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 33 games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Outback Bowl; January 1, 11:00 AM; Tampa, FL
Auburn (7-5) vs. Northwestern (8-4)
About Auburn : Expectations for Auburn varied greatly among its supporters. They fired longtime Head Coach Tommy Tuberville, and brought in Gene Chizik, who was best remembered for a 2-10 stop in Iowa State before being hired.
Chizik’s last position, and it’s results, didn’t quite sit well with Auburn faithful. Nevertheless, Auburn quickly won its first five games, including two conference wins. The Tigers’ success would be short lived, as they would lose five of their final seven, including a loss to hated rival Alabama, to finish 7-5.
Auburn has an offensive mastermind in Gus Malzahn running the show, and his magic was evident this season.
The Tigers were 20th in total offense (432.33 yards per game), including 13th in rushing (213.83 yards per game). Senior RB Ben Tate has taken the reigns on the ground, grinding his way to 1254 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior QB Chris Todd is extremely efficient, throwing 21 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Sophomore WR Darvin Adams leads the team with 855 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. His ability to score is a huge reason for Auburn’s 20th ranked scoring offense (32.92 points per game).
In bringing in a new coach who was the defensive coordinator during Auburn’s 2004 championship run, many expected the defense to be staunch this season. That wasn’t entirely the case. They did rank 28th in NCAA FBS against the pass (191.83 yards a game), but they were in the bottom half of scoring (73rd with 26.92 points per game).
Senior DE Antonio Coleman lived up to his hype, with 45 tackles (15.5 for loss), nine sacks, one forced fumble, and an interception returned for a touchdown. Junior LB Josh Bynes leads the team with 94 tackles, and contributed five sacks and an interception. Auburn started off hot and fizzled, but they did play Alabama strong. This enigma of a team could go either way in their bowl game.
About Northwestern : The Wildcats had trouble finding themselves in the beginning of the season, going 2-2 in their first four matchups. They improved to 5-4 before a showdown with nationally ranked Iowa came up on the schedule. The Wildcats stopped Iowa, setting off a three game winning streak to close their season out at 8-4.
Northwestern is another Big Ten team that likes to use the spread offense, a far cry from the normal ground-pounding, defensive-minded matchups. That spread offense has turned Northwestern into a passing machine, averaging 266.08 yards a game (29th in NCAA FBS).
Of course, a pass heavy offense is only good as the receivers catching the ball. That falls to senior receivers Andrew Brewer and Zeke Markshausen. They have combined for 1566 yards and 10 touchdowns. Senior QB Mike Kafka started as a scout team walk-on, and today, he’s thrown for 2898 yards and 10 touchdowns, rushing for another seven touchdowns, and even caught one this season as well. Not bad for a walk-on.
On the other side of the ball, Northwestern is good, but not great. They’re 44th in total defense (344.25 yards a game), and 48th in points scored (23.33 points a game), but outside of that, it’s nothing special.
Senior DB Brad Phillips recovered enough from offseason surgery to post 84 tackles, three sacks, four forced fumbles, and an interception. Junior LB Quentin Davie was right behind him with 81 tackles (nine for loss), three sacks, four forced fumbles, and an interception. Northwestern has caught fire recently, which could give them enough momentum to win a January bowl game.
The Matchup : Auburn is 19-13-2 in bowl games. Last year’s stumble snapped an eight-year bowl appearance streak, but they have won two bowl games in a row.
Northwestern is 1-6 in their bowl history. They have not won a game since 1949, but they are in a bowl for the second straight year. The last time that happened was 1995-96.
This is the first meeting between the two squads.
Northwestern has given up 23 sacks this season, so they are vulnerable. With a player like Coleman on the end, the Wildcats will have to rely on a short throwing game to limit the sacks. This is conducive to Northwestern’s M.O., which is the spread offense. Look for Auburn and DC Ted Roof to put pressure, possibly even an overload blitz on Coleman’s side. At the same time, having the DBs play bump-and-run coverage will limit their ability to get open. Should they get open, yardage will most likely be minimal. It will also be important for Auburn to keep an LB back, spying on Kafka in case the defense over pursues and he has a running lane.
As said earlier, Northwestern has a vulnerable defense, one Malzahn shouldn’t have trouble picking apart. Auburn’s offense has a number of weapons at their disposal, including Todd, Adams, and Tate. Northwestern has had some injury issues they’ve been dealing with all season, and though most of the players are healthy, it will be tough to match up against Auburn’s weaponry.
The Prediction : Auburn fires away early and often, using the run game to cheat up the safeties, before Todd to Adams puts it away. Auburn 35, Northwestern 20.