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The first bowl game of 2016 features the #13 Northwestern Wildcats locking up with the #23 Tennessee Volunteers in the Outback Bowl on Friday, January 1, 2016. Tennessee took a 48-28 win in the last meeting between the schools with a 48-28 victory on New Years’ Day 1997 in the Florida Citrus Bowl: the Volunteers’ quarterback that day was Peyton Manning, who was 27 of 39 for 408 yards and four scores.

Northwestern ended the season with five straight wins, including a 24-14 win over Illinois on the road November 28. That was the Wildcats’ only win by double digits in that five game stretch. Tennessee also closed with five straight wins after crushing Vanderbilt 53-28 at home November 28: only one of their last five was decided by single digits. The kickoff from Ramyond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida is scheduled for 12:00 pm ET and will be televised on ESPN2. Tennessee is currently an 8 point favorite in this contest with the over/under set at 48 points in this contest.

Free Pick on the Tennessee Volunteers -8

Pat Fitzgerald managed to get Northwestern back on track after a couple rough seasons but their offense leaves something to be desired. The Wildcats have struggled to move the ball through the air as they are 120th in passing offense with 139.3 yards per contest; they are currently 38th in rushing with an average of 193.3 yards per game. Northwestern scores just 22.5 points per game but they are relying on their defense as they are 7th in scoring defense in the nation by allowing 16.4 points per game, giving them a +6.1 point differential.

Clayton Thorson has had his ups and downs at quarterback; he is 142 of 275 for 1,465 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions while running for 374 yards and five scores. Justin Jackson is the lead back for the Wildcats; he has 298 carries for 1,344 yards and four touchdowns. Warren Long (56 carries, 321 yards, 4 TD) and Solomon Vault (55 carries, 159 yards) are the secondary backs in the system. Dan Vitale (355 yards, 4 TD) leads the team with 33 receptions while Christian Jones (234 yards, 2 TD) has 23 receptions to rank second on the team while Jackson has grabbed 19 passes out of the backfield. Four other players have at least 11 receptions but the passing game has been ineffective this season. Jack Mitchell has hit 25 of 27 extra point attempts and 18 of 26 field goal attempts with a long of 49 yards; five of his eight misses are from 40 to 49 yards.

Butch Jones continues in his quest to turn Tennessee into a contender in the SEC East: he gave Alabama a run for their money in late October, lost by one to Florida and in overtime to Oklahoma earlier this season while beating Georgia. The Volunteers are currently 93rd in the nation in passing offense with an average of 199 yards per game; they are 21st in the nation in rushing offense by putting up 223.5 yards per game. Tennessee is currently 35th in the nation in scoring offense as they average 34.3 points per game while they stand 25th in the nation in scoring defense by allowing 21.2 points per contest.

Joshua Dobbs is the primary signal caller for the Volunteers; he’s hit 191 of 319 passes for 2,125 yards with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions while ranking third on the team with 623 yards and nine scores on the ground. Quinten Domady has completed 11 of 18 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown as the backup quarterback. Jalen Hurd is the lead back in the 1-2 power combination at running back for the Volunteers as he has 253 carries for 1,158 yards and 11 scores; Alvin Kamara (96 carries, 645 yards, 6 TD) is the second back in that setup. Josh Malone is currently third on the team with 29 receptions for a team high 388 yards and two touchdowns while Kamara has collected 31 grabs out of the backfield. Ethan Wolf (21 catches, 277 yards, 2 TD), Von Pearson (team high 36 receptions, 377 yards, 3 TD) and Josh Smith (23 catches, 307 yards, 2 TD) are secondary targets when Dobbs drops back to throw. Aaron Medley has kicked all 49 extra points but has hit 20 of 29 field goal attempts with a long of 47 yards; three of his nine misses are from beyond 50 yards.

Tennessee is 4-1 ATS in their last five after picking up at least 450 yards of offense and 5-2 ATS in their last seven overall.

Northwestern has been very good defensively but they’ve had issues on the offensive side of the ball. Tennessee has a great 1-2 combination on the ground plus the versatility of Dobbs to make plays with his legs if something isn’t there in the passing game. The Wildcats will do what they can to keep things in check but Tennessee’s weapons are too much for Northwestern to handle.