Outback Bowl Picks: Well-Balanced Northwestern to Keep it Close Against Tennessee

Joe Gavazzi

Tuesday, December 22, 2015 6:11 PM GMT

Our handicapping professional does an early breakdown of the Outback Bowl matchup between Tennessee vs. Northwestern. Go inside to find our free college football pick.

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College Football Pick: Northwestern +8.5
Best Line Offered: at Heritage

 

Tennessee vs. Northwestern Noon ET
The 2016 New Year kicks off with this Friday, January 1st Noon ET Bowl Game. It pits Big 10 member, Northwestern, against SEC foe, Tennessee. Each of these teams played well the entire season and finished the season strong. With each team sporting 5 consecutive victories entering this game, they are well-deserving of this New Year’s Day Bowl Games. I see no reason why there should not be ample motivation for each team. With the game being played in normally sunny Tampa, weather should not be a factor in the outcome of this game.

 

Betting Preview
Under 3rd year HC Butch Jones, the Vols have made steady progress going from 5 to 7 to 8 wins entering today’s contest. Last year, the Vols culminated their season by winning 4 of their 5 final contests, including a Bowl victory against Big 10 member, Iowa (45-28). The M.O. for this Northwestern team is not unlike that of last year’s Bowl foe, giving reason for possible success. Despite 18 RS this season, the Vols are a relatively young team, as they are made up predominantly of Jones’ recruits. For the 3rd consecutive season, Tennessee improved on both sides of the ball. This year, they averaged 34/423 on offense, running for 224/4.8. Their defensive numbers were solid at 21/370.  Five season-ending victories confirm that this program is upwardly mobile. But, before you get too excited about those victories, note that they came against Kentucky, S. Carolina, N. Texas, Missouri and Vandy with not a winning record among those foes. On their behalf, their 4 defeats this season came against quality foes in competitive games. In losing to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida and Alabama all defeats came by 5 or fewer points or in OT. There is little doubt that this is a well-balanced team on the rise. How they will fare against the staunch defense of Northwestern is a matter of conjecture.

10th year Northwestern HC, Pat Fitzgerald, leads his Wildcats into Bowl battle for the first time in 3 seasons. Fitzgerald has taken the Wildcats Bowling 5 times with only one victory. That was their most recent 2012 appearance against SEC foe, Mississippi St., in which Northwestern recorded a (34-20) win. That culminated the 10-3 SU, 11-1 ATS season for the Wildcats. In the interim, Northwestern struggled with a pair of 5-win seasons and an 8-14 ATS log.  But, they flashed a buy sign early this year, when in Week 1, they defeated powerful PAC 12 team Stanford (16-6) as 11 point home dog. Victories against representative opponents, Duke, Nebraska, Penn St. and Wisconsin also dotted their schedule.  But, when stepping up to face the upper echelon of the Big 10 in mid-October, they lost (38-0) to Michigan and (40-10) to Iowa. Those were their only 2 defeats, but they are clearly cause for concern.  The main reason for the Northwestern success this season came as a result of an outstanding defense. The Wildcats allow just 16 PPG, 311 YPG and 4.5 YP play. Those numbers include just 118/3.4 overland.  As such, they are superior to Tennessee in each of those categories. 

 

Final Analysis
The combination of the Super D of Northwestern and the generous (8-) point impost make this a must bet on defensive dog that is the Northwestern Wildcats. I invite you to put the college football odds in your favor and join me with my college football pick on Northwestern, as we kick off the New Year with a winner!