If anyone in the Big Ten really got the shaft in terms of bowl matchups, it’s got to be Northwestern.
Not only did they get a Texas A&M team that is far better than their 6-6 record indicates, but they essentially have to play the Aggies with a home field advantage, as the Meineke Car Care Bowl will be played in Houston, Texas.
Prior to a late-November loss to Michigan State, Northwestern was one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, winning four straight games including a big upset on the road against Nebraska. This is a team that is used to playing spoiler, and despite high expectations for this season, that was pretty much all they were able to be.
Against Texas A&M, they are going to really need to be well-prepared in terms of film study, because the Aggies boast a really potent offensive attack led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is a first round NFL prospect.
Of A&M’s six losses, two were in overtime, and three were by four points or less. Like I said before, this is a team that looks to me to be much better than their record would indicate, and I think they really missed an opportunity this year in their final season in the Big 12.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has enjoyed a solid senior season since transitioning from the wide receiver position just over a year ago. This is a kid who can move around in the pocket, make all the throws, and he also has the athleticism to make plays with his legs.
Surely this will be nothing new for Northwestern and their fans, who are used to dual-threat quarterbacks.
Tannehill has passed for 3,415 yards this season to go along with 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and four rushing touchdowns. His completion percentage is only just over 61 percent, but he is capable of putting up huge numbers and is only getting better as a player.
In terms of a quarterback duel, you might have to look at two different guys from Northwestern, because they boast two excellent dual-threat quarterbacks that they love to utilize on a game-by-game basis.
Senior Dan Persa tore his Achilles on a game-winning touchdown pass to end last season against Iowa, an injury that showed just how tough he is but also hindered what many expected could be a Heisman-caliber season.
Persa has been slow to recover from such a devastating injury, and not coincidentally, so was Northwestern. They started the year 2-5, losing their first four conference games. Despite missing the first three games of the year, Persa has had a solid season, completing over 74 percent of his passes and throwing 17 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions.
That will be the key in this game, is which quarterback can make more plays. The Wildcats, as I mentioned, have two guys who can do that. Dan Persa’s replacement while he was injured was Kain Colter, who is more of a scrambler than anything else but a good decision maker from the quarterback position as well. He is the team’s leading rusher with 589 yards and eight touchdowns.
This promises to be an intriguing matchup between two slightly struggling defenses against two offenses capable of putting up big numbers. The story throughout this game will always be the play of the quarterbacks, and it might come down to which signal caller makes more plays.