Northwestern Wildcats (8-4 SU, 5-6 ATS) vs. Auburn Tigers (7-5 SU, 6-5 ATS), 11:00 a.m. EST, Friday, January 1, 2009, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Northwestern +7.5/Auburn -7.5
The Outback Bowl features two teams that ended the season going in different directions. The Northwestern Wildcats won their last three games, including two over top 25 teams, while the Auburn Tigers started the season with a 5-0 record before losing five of its last seven games.
Auburn was looking great early in the season at 5-0 with wins over Mississippi State, West Virginia and Tennessee. But three straight losses to Arkansas, Kentucky and LSU turned the Tigers’ season in the wrong direction. After bouncing back with wins over Ole Miss and Furman, the Tigers ended the season with consecutive losses to Georgia and Alabama.
Despite losing its last two games and five of its last seven, Auburn did end the season with a strong performance against undefeated No. 1 Alabama. The Tigers had the lead in the final seconds before a touchdown pass by Alabama to steal the victory.
Auburn has scored 24 or less points in each of its five losses but scored at least 33 points in all but one of its wins. The big questions will be which Auburn offense shows up against Northwestern.
Northwestern started the season slow with losses to Syracuse and Minnesota after defeating Eastern Michigan at home by only three points. After going 3-2 in their next five games but still not looking very good, the Wildcats totally turned their season around down the stretch. They went to Iowa to face an undefeated top 10 team and upset the Hawkeyes, 17-10. They took that momentum into the next game and won by five at Illinois. They proved the Iowa win wasn’t a fluke by defeating Wisconsin 33-31 at home to end the season.
Auburn’s offense is led by quarterback Chris Todd, who has thrown for 2,377 yards, 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions this season. Running back Ben Tate has been solid with 1,254 yards and eight touchdowns.
Northwestern is led by quarterback Mike Kafka, who has 2,898 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Wildcats do not have one running back that has been the primary ball-carrier. No Wildcat even has 300 rushing yards for the season. In the win over Wisconsin, Kafka threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns, but no running back totaled more than 28 yards.
Auburn is allowing less than 200 passing yards per game, but its run defense has not been good at all. The Tigers have allowed 161.7 rushing yards per game and 24 rushing touchdowns.
Northwestern is 8-1 ATS in its last nine games as an underdog. Auburn is 0-4 ATS in its last four games as favorite and 2-5 ATS in its last seven games overall. Auburn’s last seven bowl games have all gone under. The total has gone under in seven of Northwestern’s last nine games as an underdog. The over is 7-1 in Auburn’s last eight games as a favorite.
Auburn is 1-3 ATS this season away from home, while Northwestern is 4-1 ATS away from home this season.
Northwestern lost a tough one in its bowl games last season, 30-23 to Missouri. The Wildcats didn’t play in a bowl game the last two years before that.
Incredibly, Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since 1949 when it defeated USC 20-14 in the Rose Bowl. That was the only bowl game victory ever for the Wildcats.
Auburn failed to make a bowl game last year, but won its bowl game each of the two years before that, both by three points.
If Auburn can extend the confidence it gained from the close loss to Alabama into this game, the Tigers could control it and defeat Northwestern. But if the Tigers bring the lack of confidence and the poor play on both sides of the ball that it had for most of the second half of the season, Northwestern could get it first bowl win in 61 years. The key for the Wildcats will be to establish some sort of running game. Auburn has a poor run defense but the Wildcats haven’t run the ball well all season. If they can gain some yards on the ground and create short third down situations for Kafka, they will be able to move the ball and score some points.
Ryno’s Pick: Often times, when a matchup arises between two teams that both could easily win the game, bowl games come down to which team is more excited to be there and wants it more. In this case, either team has the ability to win this game. But Northwestern ended its season with three straight wins and hasn’t won a bowl game in 61 years. The Wildcats will be fired up to put on a good performance and try to get a victory. Auburn may still be disappointed from the poor end to its season and how close it came to upsetting Alabama in the last game. Getting more than a touchdown is sufficient for a Northwestern team that will fight hard to keep it close. Take Northwestern at +7.5 to cover the spread.