No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (6-6 SU, 7-5 ATS)
College Football Week New Era Pinstripe Bowl Preview
Date/Time: Wednesday December 28th, 2:00PM (EST) 2016
Where: Yankee Stadium New York, N.Y.
by Jay, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: PITT -5.5/NW +5.5
Over/Under Total: 65.5
The 2016 New Era Pinstripe Bowl will feature the no. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers and the Northwestern Wildcats inside Yankee Stadium. More commonly known as the "Yankee Bowl", this bowl game has gained some notoriety in recent years for producing great football games. In fact, the last two bowl pairings produced by the New Era PinStripe Bowl have both gone past regulation to be decided in overtime. This year's matchup has the ingredients to be another very enticing matchup as the 23rd ranked Panthers will be favored by just 5.5 points against a more than capable 6-6 SU Northwestern team.
Despite the 6-6 record, Northwestern has proven on numerous occassions that they can contend with the top teams in the country this year. The Wildcats may have failed to meet expectations this year following an impressive 10-3 campaign one year ago. However, this is the same football team that has scored some pretty impressive victories and went toe to toe with Ohio State and Wisconsin in back to back weeks. Therefore, they are not going to be an easy out for the 8-4 SU Panthers who most expect to win this game.
The main issue that Northwestern has had this year is inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats defense has been pretty solid all season. On the contrary, the Wildcats offense has been downright frustrating at times this year. Despite some big play talent, the offense has been shut down on several occasions. In fact, Northwestern has averaged just 13 points per game in their 6 losses this season while average 37.8 points per game in their 6 victories. As evident in the numbers, Northwestern's offense has commonly been the deciding factor behind their outcomes this year and that may fare well for them in this matchup against Pitt.
Despite the 8-4 record, the Panthers have been pretty horrific on defense this year ranking 109th in scoring while giving up 35.6 points per game. The Panthers defense has specifically been horrible against the pass ranking 127th in the FBS against the pass giving up 343 yards per game. To put things in perspective, only Arizona State has been worse against the pass this year in the FBS. Therefore, the opportunity will be available for Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorton to have a big game and potentially an even bigger game for WR Austin Carr. Thorton has seemingly gotten better during the latter part of the season and Carr is a complete mismatch for anyone in the Panthers secondary. The Wildcats receiver has caught 84 passes for 1,196 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. Therefore if Northwestern can exploit this mismatch in the secondary and get a good game from Thorson, the opportunity will be there for an upset.
However, Northwestern's defense will also need a big effort to pull of this upset. Pittsburgh has one of the best offenses in the ACC which was evident at the end of the year when the blew up to score 175 points in their final 3 games of the season against conference foes. All 3 of those games resulted in victories including the big upset over no. 2 Clemson. Running back James Conner has especially been impressive down the stretch with 3 straight games over 100 yards rushing with 5 touchdowns during that stretch. Also, Nathan Peterman has been great at protecting the ball this season and delivering down the field. Peterman has 26 touchdowns with just 6 picks on the season and has the experience to deliver in critical situations. Therefore, this should be a nice test for the Northwestern defense.
Jay's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Northwestern is just 1-10 SU in their last 11 bowl games and 1-5 SU under Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald. Despite the matchup opportunities, I think Pitt is just simply the better team and it will show in this game. Take Pitt –4.5
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