Bowl Breakdown: Meineke Car Care
Northwestern and Texas A&M both boast prolific offenses and leaky defenses
Texas A&M's coaching situation could prove to be a distraction for the players
Northwestern has kept its recent bowl games close, but blown late leads
Northwestern (6-6) vs. Texas A&M (6-6)
Dec. 31, Noon ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: Looking for a shootout? Few bowl games will offer more offensive fireworks than the New Year's Eve clash between Northwestern and Texas A&M. The numbers tell the story: Both teams average at least 29 points per game (39.6 for the Aggies, 29.5 for the Wildcats) and both surrender nearly four touchdowns in return (28.7 and 27.3 points, respectively). Factor in a pair of prolific quarterbacks (Ryan Tannehill and Dan Persa) and an NFL-caliber running back (Cyrus Gray is listed as probable despite a stress fracture to his shoulder) and the Meineke Car Care Bowl has the makings of a high-octane thriller.
Keep an eye on: Momentum -- something that's been anything but consistent during both teams' roller coaster campaigns. Northwestern floundered to a 2-5 start before rattling off four consecutive victories, including a 28-25 stunner at Nebraska on Nov. 5. A&M was ranked eighth in the preseason but lost junior running back Christine Michael to a season-ending knee injury, five of its last six games and, eventually, coach Mike Sherman to firing on Dec. 2. The coaching shakeup could be key: Not only will Sherman be absent, but defensive coordinator and interim head coach Tim DeRuyter has already accepted the head coaching position at Fresno State for 2012.
Did you know: Neither team has won a bowl game in a decade, with the Aggies' last triumph coming in the 2001 Galleryfurniture.com Bowl and the Wildcats' in the 1949 Rose Bowl. Northwestern, however, has made a habit of keeping games close. Pat Fitzgerald's group lost heartbreakers in each of the last three seasons -- two as a result of kicking mishaps in the second half or overtime.
Final analysis: Both teams should score at will, with Gray (1,045 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns), Ryan Swope (1,102 receiving yards, 11 TDs), Jeremy Ebert (1,025 receiving yards, 11 TDs) and Drake Dunsmore (509 receiving yards, six TDs) likely to find the end zone. Ultimately, though, Northwestern can't keep pace with the up-tempo Aggies. Tannehill and Co. will overpower first team All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters and the Northwestern defense in the fourth.
The pick: Texas A&M 45, Northwestern 38