2011 Bowl Predictions: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern Preview
The Meineke Car Care Bowl game between Texas A&M (6-6), playing its final game as a member of the Big 12, and Northwestern (6-6) of the Big Ten, certainly should be one of the highest-scoring bowl games of the year.
Both have dynamic offenses (A&M is No. 11 in scoring and Northwestern is No. 51) and very questionable defenses.
It’s a unique dynamic for the Aggies, that were a chic preseason Big 12 Champion pick. But blew huge leads all season. Five halftime leads of double digits, and another by nine against rival Texas equaled their six losses.
Texas A&M closed losing four of five, with the last on a field goal, as time expired against the Horns.
That led to the firing of head coach Mike Sherman. He will be replaced by former Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin. The current Texas A&M staff will continue to prepare and coach this bowl game. While Sumlin handles recruiting with Texas A&M headed to the SEC next season.
Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has taken over as an interim coach, which is rather weird since defense was a weakness this year. Sherman was the team’s offensive coordinator, so I guess the school had no other choice.
DeRuyter said offensive line coach Jim Turner will call the plays in the bowl game. DeRuyter says quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley, running backs coach Randy Jordan, and receivers coach Troy Walters will also offer input.
It’s the final game for A&M QB Ryan Tannehill. In an odd stat, he is the only player in NCAA history to record more than 4,000 yards passing and 1,500 yards receiving, as well as the only player to record a 400-yard passing game and a 200-yard receiving game. Tannehill played receiver his first few seasons at A&M.
Defensively, the Aggies lead the nation with 43 sacks and are 15th in the country against the run. Yet they still allow nearly 29 points per game.
It’s not clear if Aggies leading rusher Cyrus Gray will play. He missed the Texas game with a stress fracture in his shoulder. His chances of suiting up are 50-50.
A&M has lost its last five postseason contests; including the last two under Sherman to Georgia in the 2009 Independence Bowl, and to LSU in the Cotton Bowl following last season.
Northwestern is playing in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive season, but it still hasn’t won one since the Rose Bowl at the end of the 1948 season.
It feels like Wildcats QB Dan Persa has been in Evanston forever, but this will be his first bowl game. He missed the TicketCity Bowl loss to Texas Tech in Dallas last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Persa was a preseason dark-horse Heisman candidate, but missed the beginning of the season as he recovered from that injury. He still led the Big 10 in passing (240.3 yards per game) and completed 74.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions.
Northwestern closed the season pretty strong, winning four straight until a regular-season-ending 31-17 loss to Michigan State. That loss was doubly painful as the team’s top cornerback, Jordan Mabin, was injured against the Spartans and won’t be able to play in the bowl.
A&M and Northwestern have never played. The teams don’t have any common opponents from this season.
Meineke Car Care Bowl Odds and Trends
The Aggies have opened as 10-point favorites with the total at 65, according to college football odds.
A&M is 0-5 ATS in past five bowl games, and 0-9 ATS in past nine neutral-site games. Northwestern is 4-1 ATS in past five bowl games. The Cats are 4-0 ATS in past four vs. Big 12, but 1-4 ATS overall in past five as a dog.
The ‘over’ is 7-0 in NU’s past seven after a loss, and 5-1 in Aggies’ past six after a loss. A&M is 3-9 ATS this season, while NU is 5-7. ‘Over/under’ records: A&M 7-5, NU 6-6.
Meineke Car Care Bowl Predictions and Betting Preview
This will basically be a road game for Northwestern. The crowd should be about 95 percent Aggies fans, as the campus is about 90 miles from Houston. But maybe that’s a good thing.
Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.
I don’t doubt A&M has more talent, but with all the coaching turmoil the team probably won’t be very focused. Thus take Northwestern and the points. And the ‘over’.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports football picks Web site.
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