#13 Northwestern Wildcats (10-2) vs #23 Tennessee Volunteers (8-4)
Proving that January 1st always gets the good bowl games and should share with other dates of the year, the Outback Bowl pits the 13th ranked Northwestern Wildcats agains the 23rd ranked Tennessee Volunteers. While neither team would be consider a sexy Top 25 team…it is a Top 25 matchup in a bowl game so you have to count your blessings after three 5-7 teams won bowl games this season.
Northwestern’s sexiness came and went after they beat the Stanford Cardinals at home to open the season. The Wildcats went undefeated excluding a two-game hiccup in October when they loss to Michigan and Iowa. Northwestern’s second and final win over a ranked opponent came at the hands of Wisconsin on the road though, as detailed in our Holiday Bowl preview, don’t let the Badger’s ranking fool you. A win against their borderline ranked SEC foe will show if that win against Stanford was for real or the Wildcats were dealt a favorable schedule and capitalized on it.
Tennessee, still trying to rid itself of the last bit of Lane Kiffin scent left behind, has a chance to become sparkly clean with an Outback Bowl win. The Volunteers went 8-4 during the season with a 5-3 conference record thanks to a down SEC East. With wins against then 19th ranked Georgia and eventual MAC Champions Bowling Green along with an overtime loss to CFP-bound Oklahoma shows the Volunteers have some guts. Tennessee’s three losses against SEC opponents (Florida, Arkansas, Alabama) were also all by one possession. Whether or not Tennessee can actually finish on top of an opponent that currently finds themselves ranked remains to be seen.
Crystal Ball Prediction: Whoever wins will still need another great season to prove to people they are a legitimate future CFP contender.
Winner according to Nickname Wars: Wildcats > Volunteers