TV Schedule: Friday, January 1, 12:00 pm, ET, ESPN2
Stadium: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Line: TENN (-7.5)
If Northwestern wants to win this bowl game, their offense needs to produce much more than their average of 333 yards per game. But even with a chip on their shoulder after finishing with only two losses in the Big 10 and not getting a bigger bowl game, Tennessee’s offense might be too much for Northwestern’s defense.
The Wildcats’ only two losses came in successive weeks and neither were very pretty. Their first loss came against a lower-ranked Michigan in an ugly 0-38 blowout. The very next week saw a 10-40 rout at the hands of Iowa.
Northwestern has relied on a stout defense to win them games this season. The Wildcats’ D only allowed 16.4 points per game this season, good enough for 14th in the FBS. Northwestern’s defense will be vulnerable to Tennessee’s potent offense.
Three of Tennessee’s four losses this season were heartbreakers. In each of those three games, Tennessee seemed poised to win before a fourth-quarter rally, a missed field goal and a forced fumble sealed the losses.
The losses, however, seemed to work in their favor, helping to motivate the Volunteers toward an even better 2016 season. In 2015, Tennessee proved to be on the verge of a breakthrough and will use this bowl game to solidify those claims, especially with QB Joshua Dobbs and RB Jalen Hurd feeling overshadowed this season with all the hype surrounding Florida QB Will Grier (before he got suspended and announced his decision to transfer, of course) and Alabama RB Derrick Henry (whose Heisman is proof the hype surrounding him wasn’t misplaced).
They’ll want to prove Tennessee has just as much to offer as the SEC East and West champs, something they’ve been quietly doing all season.
Prediction: Northwestern 17, Tennessee 23