Tom Dienhart Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
Saturday's Northwestern-Texas Tech matchup will be the inaugural TicketCity Bowl, and the first game has as its host site a famous stadium.
This bowl will be played at Cotton Bowl stadium because the postseason game of that name moved last season to the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium.
In addition, it has a favorable time slot, as it's the first game of the day, with no competition for an hour.
The Wildcats will be making their school-record third bowl appearance in a row, while the Red Raiders are making their 11th consecutive postseason appearance.
Texas Tech enters the game on a bit of a roll, having won three of its past four under first-year coach Tommy Tuberville. Conversely, the Wildcats opened with a 5-0 record, then limped across the finish line by losing five of their final seven regular-season games.
This is the third and final Big Ten/Big 12 bowl matchup. The Big Ten leads 2-0, thanks to wins by Iowa (over Missouri in the Insight) and Illinois (over Baylor in the Texas).
WHO GETS THE EDGE?
Northwestern rush offense vs. Texas Tech rush defense: The Wildcats have struggled to run. QB Dan Persa is a good runner (519 yards, nine TDs), but he is out with injury. Northwestern averages 149.8 yards per game, but the Wildcats manage only 3.6 yards per carry. Tech doesn't have a stout run defense (157.0 ypg), but LB Brian Duncan and T Colby Whitlock are active forces. Edge: Even.
WHEN: Jan. 1, noon.
WHERE: Cotton Bowl, Dallas.
TV: ESPNU (Dave Pasch will do play-by-play, with Chris Spielman and Bob Griese as the analysts).
THE LINE: Texas Tech by 9.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Northwestern 1-4, Texas Tech 3-3.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Northwestern 92nd, Texas Tech T-37th.
BCS RANKINGS: Neither is ranked.
OFFICIATING CREW: From the Mountain West.
COACHES: Texas Tech- Tommy Tuberville (6-3 in bowls); Northwestern- Pat Fitzgerald (0-2 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Northwestern is looking to end the school's seven-game bowl losing streak; the program's lone postseason triumph came in the Rose Bowl after the 1948 season. The Wildcats have lost their past two bowls in overtime, to Missouri (Alamo) and Auburn (Outback).
KEY STATS: Texas Tech's defense ranks 116th in the nation (463.1 ypg); Northwestern's ranks 92nd (415.7 ypg). What's it mean? Points could come quickly in the iconic Cotton Bowl stadium, but Northwestern may have trouble keeping pace with starting QB Dan Persa out with an Achilles' injury.
Northwestern pass offense vs. Texas Tech pass defense: No school in the nation had a worse pass defense than the Red Raiders, who yield 306.1 yards per game and have been torched for 27 touchdowns. Too bad Northwestern will be without Persa. Redshirt freshman Evan Watkins hasn't impressed in two starts, going 23-of-42 for 258 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions. When Watkins throws, he'll look for Jeremy Ebert, who led the Big Ten with 919 receiving yards. Tech has allowed at least two TD passes in nine games and have given up at least 300 yards seven times. Edge: Even.
Texas Tech rush offense vs. Northwestern rush defense: How much did the Wildcats' defense struggle down the stretch? It yielded 118 points in the final two regular-season games and was trampled for 519 rushing yards by Illinois and 329 rushing yards by Wisconsin. The good news for Northwestern: Texas Tech has a weak ground game (137.8 ypg), ranking 82nd in the nation. But Baron Batch (805 yards rushing) can make plays behind the blocking of star G Lonnie Edwards. Edge: Even.
Texas Tech pass offense vs. Northwestern pass defense: The Red Raiders figure to feast on a Wildcats defense that yields 230.5 passing yards per game. Tech QB Taylor Potts has thrown for 3,357 yards, 31 touchdowns and nine picks, and leads an attack that ranks eighth in the nation in passing (314.8 ypg) and scoring (32.1 ppg). But this isn't an explosive attack. Rather, the Red Raiders usually dink and dunk their way down the field with WRs Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong and Alex Torres. Northwestern DE Vince Browne (seven sacks) needs to bring the heat. CB Jordan Mabin leads the Big Ten with 13 pass breakups. Edge: Texas Tech.
Northwestern special teams vs. Texas Tech special teams: Freshman Venric Mark has provided a boost as Northwestern's kickoff returner, averaging 27.6 yards per return with a touchdown. He also does a nice job on punt returns. K Stefan Demos has a big leg, but he is inconsistent (15-of-22, including 5-of-10 from beyond 40) and has had two blocked. P Brandon Williams averages 40.4 per attempt. The coverage units have been solid. This isn't a strong area for Texas Tech. It lacks big-play ability in the return game, and the punting is average. K Matt Williams has hit 8-of-10 field-goal attempts, but his long is only 42 yards. Tech has allowed two kickoffs to be returned for scores. The punt coverage has been good, though. Edge: Northwestern.
Northwestern coaches vs. Texas Tech coaches: Pat Fitzgerald is developing into one of the Big Ten's best coaches, combining boundless energy with a growing acumen. And he has a wily defensive coordinator in Mike Hankwitz. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall has done a nice job this season with a rebuilt unit. Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville is a sage coach who has succeeded at every stop. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown is considered a rising star, but defensive coordinator James Willis left the program the day after Christmas. What impact will that have? Edge: Texas Tech.
X-factor: The running backs bear watching. Can either team's top guy get traction? The Red Raiders have a nice option in Batch. The Wildcats' top running back is Mike Trumpy, who has only 530 yards and is battling a wrist injury. If either back has a big day, his team figures to win.
Northwestern will win if: The Wildcats need to win the turnover battle. The Wildcats also likely will need to score at least one unconventional touchdown via special teams or defense to help an offense that likely will struggle without Persa.
Texas Tech will win if: Getting on top early is important. Northwestern doesn't appear equipped to be able to rally from a deficit with a backup quarterback.
Olin Buchanan: Texas Tech 24, Northwestern 20
Tom Dienhart: Texas Tech 38, Northwestern 21
David Fox: Texas Tech 35, Northwestern 21
Mike Huguenin: Texas Tech 38, Northwestern 23
Steve Megargee: Texas Tech 31, Northwestern 21