Updated: 12/26/17: Injury Update
Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad will not be playing in this game after injuring his foot in late November. Conrad is second in team receiving with 286 yards and leads the Wildcats with four receiving touchdowns. The injury could have a small effect on the Kentucky offense, however, they do rely heavily on their running game. Northwestern does not have any significant injuries.
Kentucky Wildcats (7-5; 3-9 ATS; 6-6 O/U) vs. #21 Northwestern Wildcats (9-3; 9-3 ATS; 5-5 O/U)
The 21st ranked Northwestern Wildcats will meet the Kentucky Wildcats in the Music City Bowl on Friday, December 29th from Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Kentucky posted a 7-5 record and went 4-4 in SEC play, while Northwestern finished the regular season with a 9-3 record and recorded a 9-3 record in Big Ten action.
Kentucky Aims for First Bowl Win Since 2008
The Kentucky Wildcats enter this battle on a sour note after losing their final two regular season games. They were stomped 44-17 on their home field by Louisville in their regular season finale. Wildcats QB Stephen Johnson did not throw a touchdown in the final three games and has collected 2048 passing yards with a 10:4 TD to INT ratio on the season. Kentucky leans on their running game to generate a good portion of their offense led by Benny Snell Jr. The sophomore running back had a tremendous season, accumulating 1318 rushing yards along with 18 touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Snell Jr. rushed for over 100 yards in four out of his last five games. Kentucky’s leading receiver Garrett Johnson only recorded 500 receiving yards on the season, and was quiet down the final stretch as the Wildcats focused on the run. Kentucky’s offense struggled against the stronger defensive teams, and they are only averaging 350 total yards per game, ranking them 105th in the Country.
The Kentucky defense conceded a combined 86 points in their final two games against Georgia and Louisville and will face another big challenge in this matchup. They have had success against the run but their pass defense has been an issue. Kentucky lost three out of their last four games of the regular season and went 0-2 against ranked teams this season which included a 42-13 loss to Georgia last month.
Northwestern Heads into Bowl on Seven Game Winning Streak
The Northwestern Wildcats will be aiming for their second straight bowl win ranked at number 21 in the Nation. They were very sharp on both sides of the ball down the final stretch of the season. Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson was inconsistent at times this season and has recorded 2809 passing yards with a 15:12 TD to INT ratio. He tossed nine interceptions in his first six games, but only threw three in his last six games. Wildcats’ leading rusher Justin Jackson finished the regular season off strong, notching 310 rushing yards in his last two games, and finished the season with 1154 yards and nine touchdowns. Northwestern features solid depth in their receiving core with four players with at least 400 receiving yards highlighted by Bennett Skowronek. The sophomore receiver registered 619 receiving yards and averaged 14.7 yards per reception. The Wildcats offense is averaging 29.7 points per game.
The Northwestern defense is one of the better units in the entire Country, and they only allowed a combined seven points in their final two games against Minnesota and Illinois. They are dominant against the run but will give up yards in the air. The Wildcats enter this game on a seven game winning streak which included three straight overtime wins. They went 1-2 against ranked teams this season which included a thrilling 39-31 triple-overtime win over Michigan State.
The Kentucky Wildcats are:
- 1-7 ATS in their last 8 games overall.
- 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games against a team with a winning record.
- 0-5 ATS in their last 5 neutral site games.
The Northwestern Wildcats are:
- 7-0 ATS in their last 7 games following a straight up win.
- 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games after scoring more than 40 points in their previous game.
- 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games after accumulating over 200 rushing yards in their previous game.
I am going with Northwestern in this one. Northwestern features an outstanding defense and they are up against a subpar Kentucky offense. Kentucky relies on their running game and they will be facing a Northwestern defense that is limiting opponents to an average of only 111 rushing yards per game, ranking them ninth in the Country, so I expect Northwestern to shut down the Kentucky offense. Furthermore, Kentucky’s defense is also shaky, and they own a poor pass defense that is ranked 113th in the Nation, and Northwestern features a potent passing game. Kentucky does not excel in any particular area, and I believe they will be overmatched in this one.
Pick: Northwestern Wildcats
Kentucky is going to have a tough time moving the ball with any success against this Northwestern defense. Northwestern only allowed a combined 20 points in their final three games, and they should be able to handle Kentucky, plus the under is 5-1 in Kentucky’s last six games against a team with a winning record. While I do expect production from Northwestern’s offense, this total is high enough for me to opt with the under considering the strength of the Northwestern defense, plus the under is 4-1 in their last five games after scoring more than 40 points in their previous game.