The Northwestern Wildcats will face off against the Utah Utes on December 31st in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. The Holiday Bowl has a long history dating back to 1978. Since 2014, the contest has been a battle between Pac-12 and Big Ten teams, with the Big Ten holding a 3-1 record over Pac-12 opponents.
Overcoming Championship Loss Woes
Northwestern and Utah are both coming off of a loss in their respective conference championship games. Throughout history, after teams have suffered losses in conference championship games there is the potential to enter the next game sluggish. Northwestern and Utah both lost in their conference’s respective championship games. So, something has to give on December 31st. Northwestern was blasted by Ohio State 45-24, while Utah fell to Washington 10-3. It will be interesting to watch how both teams bounce back from disappointing losses.
Key Players Missing
The major question is whether or not Utah’s quarterback, Tyler Huntley, will be able to play. Huntley suffered a broken collarbone in November, but has made enough progress to make an appearance in the Holiday Bowl, potentially. The return of Huntley could add some stability to an injury-plagued Utes offense. The Utes will play without leading rusher Zack Moss and leading receiver Britain Covey.
If Huntley returns, we could see Coach Whittingham and the Utes offense take advantage of Northwestern’s weak pass rush. The Wildcats ranked 12th in the Big Ten in pass defense in 2018. Northwestern will also be without their fair share of starters next Monday. Nate Hall and Jordan Thompson, studs on the defense, will be out.
Arguably, Northwestern plays in the harder conference, but the Utes represent one of the best teams in the Pac-12. Also, you give any team one month to prepare and anything can happen.
Utah’s offense was non-existent in the Pac-12 championship. The losses of Huntley, Moss, and Britain hurt. If they play the same way in the Holiday Bowl, Northwestern will take advantage and win a close game. Northwestern does not have any break-out stars on offense, but Pat Fitzgerald squeezes out what he needs from his players.
One cannot forget that Kyle Whittingham enters this bowl game touting an 11-1 record in bowl games. The man knows how to win the final game of the year. If Tyler Huntley plays, look for Whittingham to add to his impressive winning column. That being said, this writer offers the following prediction:
Utah wins 21-10.