Northwestern Wildcats (6-6) versus #23 Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4)
Wednesday, December 28, 2016, at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY
Betting Odds: Pittsburgh -5.5, o/u 66
In 2010, they played the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl in honor of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Last year, the game got a big boost when the NCAA gave it an automatic tie-in to the Big 10 and ACC. This year, it will be the Northwestern Wildcats playing the Pittsburgh Panthers for the right to take home the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy.
Check out our bowl predictions where we pick the straight up winner of all 40 games.According to the latest bowl odds, Pittsburgh is a 5.5-point favorite over Northwestern with a total set at 66 points.
Northwestern Wildcats – After a slow start to the season, the Wildcats just never seemed to be able to put everything together. With no less than seven bowl bound teams on its schedule, the team did well to come away with six victories in order to qualify for a bowl game. The truth is the team is probably better than the 6-6 record indicates. That’s supported by the fact they only lost to #3 Ohio State at Ohio State by 4-points at mid-season.
The issues on offense were evident in the team’s six losses where the team averaged a miserable 13 PPG. Conversely, they averaged just under 40 PPG in the team’s six wins. A team isn’t going anywhere in a tough Big 10 Conference with that kind of erratic play. With Junior QB Clayton Thorson at the controls, the Wildcats were able to generate plenty of yards in the passing game. On the season, he threw for 2,968 yards and 21 touchdowns with only 9 interceptions. His favorite target was by far Senior WR Austin Carr, who caught 84 passes for 1,196 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Fellow Junior RB Justin Jackson did a great job in the backfield, accounting for 1,300 rushing yards and 12 TDs on the ground. Beyond those three players, no one else on offense made a contribution worth noting. In those low-scoring losses, the defense did all they could to keep the scores close, but the offense would disappear at exactly the wrong time. Click here for more free college football picks.
Pittsburgh Panthers – The Panthers had an up and down season. On a positive note, they beat two top 10 teams with victories over the Rose Bowl bound Penn State Nittany Lions and a late season 1-point victory over #2 Clemson, giving the Tigers its only loss on the regular season. The low points on the season were evidenced by close losses on the road to two pretty decent football teams (North Carolina and Virginia Tech) by a combined total of 4 points.
Much of the team’s success on offense can be attributed to the steady play of Senior QB Nathan Peterman, who threw for 2,602 yards and 26 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions. The 41st best rushing attack in the country was led by Senior RB James Conner, who finished the season with 1,359 all-purpose yards to go along with a team high 20 TDs.
It was this kind of senior leadership that made Pittsburgh a tough team to play. The big knock against this team was a defense that just never came together. Collectively, they gave up an awful 35.6 PPG and 452 YPG. With a little better defense, the Panthers could have been playing in a major BCS Bowl game.
Game Analysis: Predictions are hard to make between two football teams that have shown they can compete at a high level at least some of the time. Both teams count on a balanced offensive approach to keep defenses off-balance. The betting odds would seem to be about right with Pittsburgh being favored based on it wins over Clemson and Penn State. The problem is the Panthers’ defense is porous enough to create a legitimate concern about the team covering a 5.5 spread at a neutral site against a team that stayed close to a very good Ohio State team on the road.
Let’s focus on the over/under. The Panthers averaged 58 PPG over its last three games. They also allowed 39 PPG over that same timeframe. Remembering that Northwestern is erratic on offense, one has to guess they will come out with an aggressive game plan. After all, they have nothing to lose. It’s for that reason that handicappers should expect a high scoring game.
Predictions: The point spread offers very little value either way. Therefore, the right play would seem to be a sizable bet on the over, counting on both teams to play fast and loose before hanging up the pads for the season. Prediction: Pittsburgh 41 – Northwestern 35