Northwestern has something to prove coming into tonight’s Alamo Bowl game, after enjoying their best campaign since 1996, when they were 9-2 and played in Citrus Bowl. The Wildcats have lost five bowl games in a row, all as underdogs (1-4 ATS) and basically none of them have been close. Northwestern has been out-scored 47 to 28 in those five appearances and could start to take some of Notre Dame’s thunder for bowl futility with another embarrassing defeat in San Antonio.
“I think, if anything, (the bowl drought) will provide a little extra motivation,” senior quarterback C.J. Bacher said. “At the beginning of the year we set out to win a bowl game and we’ve put ourselves in a position to do that.”
Northwestern’s 9-3 record ended up quite a feat, though expectations were higher this season with a solid number of quality returning players. “To be at nine wins right now with an opportunity for number ten, the opportunity to achieve our main goal this year—to win a bowl game—is all right here in front of us,” said coach Pat Fitzgerald, the second-youngest head coach in the nation at 33, in his third season after taking over following the unexpected death of Randy Walker in June 2006. Fitzgerald was part of the 1995 Rose Bowl team, the last Northwestern squad to win 10 games.
Most previous Wildcats teams that have made it to bowl games lacked defense, this group is quite a bit more solid in allowing 19.3 points per game. This Northwestern club has a more aggressive approach on defense with 33 sacks on the season. Despite the lack of success in bowls by the ‘Cats, Big 10 bowlers are 21-11-1 ATS if their opponent is off a loss.
Bookmaker.com has Missouri as a 12.5-point favorite, with a total of 66, despite losing last two games. Offensively, the Tigers are exceptional at 43.2 points per game with quarterback Chase Daniel heaving the pigskin to the likes of receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman.
What ended up hurting Missouri as much as anything was the offense was always under pressure to score, since the defense was rather pathetic, allowing 27.5 points per game. In particular, the pass defense was atrocious, ranking 117th in the country, which accounted for the Tigers 9-4 season.
Coach Gary Pinkel was asked if this ended up being a disappointing year. “Well, I don’t think that,” he said. “Do I wish the regular season would have ended up that we were 11-1 instead of 9-3? Yeah, we should have done that. But I think we had a good year.” Missouri is was bombed by Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game 62-21 and is 19-7 ATS after allowing 42 points or more last game.
Senior quarterback Daniel has the right perspective, “We can finish off in style. When was the last time a Missouri team won 10 games back-to-back in history? Never. We still have a chance to make history.” It should be noted Misso is 15-4 ATS after trailing by 17 or more points at the half in last contest.
The Alamo Bowl has been a graveyard for Big 12 teams with 4-10 ATS record, including 3-10 against the spread if they favored against Big 10 teams in any recent bowl matchup.
Northwestern will try to emulate what others have done to Daniel, pressure him into mistakes. If the Missouri QB has time, it will be another long bowl date for the Wildcats. If they can make Daniel uncomfortable, they have the offense to play keep away and move the chains against a porous Tigers D. Coach Fitzgerald can also bring up about his team being dissed, since their position in the conference should have meant an Outback Bowl bid, but those representatives went for attendance and took Iowa because it travels better, despite Northwestern beating them on the road.
Missouri put last year’s Big 12 title loss behind them in 38-7 romp of Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. Two significant differences were the game was played on New Year’s Day and they were playing a SEC team. This game is just another among the batch and purple and white doesn’t raise the hair on the back of the neck. Nevertheless, the Tigers have covered three straight bowl games.
Kick-off is at 8:00 Eastern on ESPN.