Tomorrow, Northwestern football takes the field for the final time this year. The 13th-ranked Wildcats go for a school-record 11th win against 23rd-ranked Tennessee at the Outback Bowl.
Our broadcasters offer their predictions for the Wildcats’ first bowl game since the 2013 Gator Bowl.
Max Gelman: Northwestern 20, Tennessee 16.
As the Wildcats take on Peyton Manning’s alma mater, their defense turns Joshua Dobbs into Brock Osweiler. Hopefully he stays healthy or else the Vols will have to turn to their version of Touchdown Trevor Siemian.
Player to watch: Matthew Harris, DB, Northwestern. As Nick VanHoose is out with a “snapped off” finger tendon, Harris will have to step up in the secondary. The Wildcats struggled earlier this year when Harris went down with an injury.
Amit Mallik: Northwestern 20, Tennessee 17
Northwestern gets early stops to turn the game into a grindfest–the Wildcats’ best chance at victory. Some late heroics may be in order.
Player to watch: Christian Salem, H, Northwestern. If it comes down to the wire, the year of the holder might have to turn into a two-year dynasty.
Erik Bremer: Northwestern 16, Tennessee 13
#VolsTwitter has spent a lot of time talking up their team, but Northwestern has acquitted itself quite well thus far in the role of the underdog. If the ‘Cats’ defense is able to keep things close early and perhaps play with a lead, the coaching staff and offense will be in familiar territory. Close games have worked out in Northwestern’s favor all year.
Player to watch: Kyle Queiro, Safety, Northwestern
Northwestern’s worst defensive performances this year coincided with the absence of Matt Harris, and Nick Van Hoose’s recent injury should set Wildcats fans on high alert once again. The ‘Cats will have to win this game with their defense, and a leaky secondary could be the weakest link unless the capable Queiro shakes off any rust from his months-long arm injury.
Zach Pereles: Tennessee 24, Northwestern 13
This is the game when Northwestern’s offensive ineptitude catches up with them. The absence of Nick VanHoose plays a bigger role than some may think, and the offense struggles against a pretty good Volunteer defense.
Key Player: Queiro. If Queiro comes back and plays as well as he did against Stanford, that’s a huge plus for Northwestern. If not, expect some big plays from the Volunteer offense.
Sam Brief: Tennessee 21, Northwestern 10
I see the Northwestern offense struggling mightily to put up enough points against a solid SEC defense in Tennessee. A bowl loss shouldn’t take away from what has been a historic season in Evanston.
Player to watch: All of Northwestern’s wide receivers. Breaking through Tennessee’s defense will require a balanced attack, and Thorson will need help in the receiving game.
Tim Balk: Northwestern 13, Tennessee 10
Tennessee is good at losing close games against good teams. I think NU is (gulp) a good team.
Player to watch: Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee: This feels like a similar game to Wisconsin, but Dobbs is infinitely more mobile than Joel Stave. NU will need to keep him from wreaking havoc on the ground.
Michael Stern: Tennessee 24, Northwestern 19
The Wildcats have come up on the right side of several close games this season, and that trend could be bucked in Tampa. While the loss of Nick VanHoose is offset by the return of Kyle Quiero, Tennessee’s ability to score touchdowns in the red zone gives the Volunteers the edge.
Player to watch: Evan Berry, KR, Tennessee. The Wildcats have allowed only one kickoff return touchdown this season, but that return may have ended the team’s game in Ann Arbor before it began. Berry (Kansas City Chief safety Eric’s younger brother) has break-away speed and must be contained, as special teams are often the difference in bowl games.