Saturday, December 31: Texas Bowl in Houston, TX at Noon eastern
Texas A&M Aggies (6-6) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (6-6)
Texas A&M lost their coach to dismissal and then tragically lost a senior player to a car crash days before the bowl game.
Vegas line/spread: Texas A&M by 9 (over/under 66)
The Aggies are a solid favorite to win a high-scoring game. The line started at 10 and has fallen to average 9 points on game day (anywhere from 8 1/2 to 10). Meanwhile the over/under rose from 66 to 70...these are both trends that point in the direction of our final score pick.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. spread|
Despite both teams having 6-6 records, there is a world of difference between how they've performed on the field. Texas A&M has had the tougher schedule, defeated better teams overall and lost by fewer points than Northwestern, and their game ratings reflect this. The Aggies rank #10 in the Strength Power Rating while Northwestern is #54. Texas A&M should win more than 5 of 6 games these teams play, and nearly 3/4 against the spread.
Like the oddsmakers, we see a lot of scoring in this one. Our main points-based power rating nearly matches the over/under but doubles the spread, making Texas A&M a three touchdown favorite. The Aggies outclass the Wildcats in both offense (#12 to #33) and defense (#31 to #74), and they're playing very close to home in-state. They play a faster tempo while Northwestern slows things down by running a lot despite their passing reputation; the game pace should be about average, and Northwestern's offense rates a bit better when tempo is fixed.
Measuring team quality by yards from scrimmage the story doesn't change. The Aggies are #7 in adjusted yardage differential (yards for minus yards against), Northwestern #50. Both offenses are good (#7 and #19) while A&M's defense (#24) greatly outranks Northwestern's (#97). Facing the teams off, we project the Aggies to have a 150 total yard advantage, which converts to a 20 point win.
On a per-attempt rather than per-game comparison, there's still a 20 point gap. The teams look about even in passing yards per game, but Texas A&M looks to gain three more yards per carry than the Wildcats, 5.2 to just 2.2.
Yardage + interceptions + kick returns: Texas A&M 48, Northwestern 29
Both teams are good at punt fielding and average on kickoff returns, and poor on punt coverage. If there's a big return it's likely to be on a punt, for either team. Northwestern has a slight advantage on potential interceptions, but it's small enough to only make a point's worth of difference.
When Texas A&M has the ball
|Texas A&M rushing offense: #19
||Northwestern rushing defense: #67
The Aggies had a strong running game all year. Christine Michael had 899 yards before getting hurt in game 9, and Cyrus Gray topped 1,000 before bowing out in game 11. Missing both of their top backs, they had their lowest rushing total of the year against Texas. Ben Malena had 83 yards, and he'll start again in case Gray isn't back. They probably won't manage the 220 or so yards they'd have with their running backs at full strength, but the Aggies should still have a decent outing.
|Texas A&M passing offense: #20||Northwestern passing defense: #110 per att: #110|
|Texas A&M interceptions thrown ranking: #67||Northwestern interceptions picked ranking: #44|
|Texas A&M quarterback protection rank: #5||Northwestern pass rush rank: #93|
Ryan Tannehill was the team's savior last year and great things were expected this season. He's done a lot, with 300 completions, 3,415 yards, and 28 touchdowns, but also threw 14 interceptions. Ryan Swope is the top target with 1,102 yards and 11 touchdown catches, and Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu both have over 500 yards. Northwestern's pass defense is #58 in raw yardage which is average, but corrected for the teams they've faced they're a dismal #110, either by per-game or per-attempt rankings. Look for Tannehill to have a field day with about 330 yards, maybe even more if RB Gray isn't there to run the ball.
Northwestern might be able to get some big plays for turnovers, but we only expect one interception. Tannehill has thrown 14 and the Wildcats nabbed 11. Their chances for a win depend heavily on getting multiple picks. They probably won't be able to put much pressure on Tannehill, who has been sacked just 8 times. The Wildcats have just 16 sacks all year, and we don't expect them to have any against A&M.
When Northwestern has the ball
|Northwestern rushing offense: #47
||Texas A&M rushing defense: #7
Northwestern's top rusher is receiver/backup quarterback Kain Colter, who started the first three games while Dan Persa was still recovering from last season's injuries. He has 589 yards and 8 touchdowns, while Jacob Schmidt has 465 and Treyvon Green 349. Persa only netted 71 yards this year as Colter took over the "running quarterback" mantle. Northwestern will need a lot of help gaining ground against the Aggies, who are in the top ten in rushing defense. Including sack yardage (see below), the Wildcats may come up short of 100 yards.
|Northwestern passing offense: #21||Texas A&M passing defense: #90 per att: #37|
|Northwestern interceptions thrown ranking: #58||Texas A&M interceptions picked ranking: #92|
|Northwestern quarterback protection rank: #110||Texas A&M pass rush rank: #1|
Dan Persa had decent production for 9 games (2,163 yards, 17 TDs) but more important than that was his efficiency, as he completed a fantastic 74% of his attempts. Kain Colter wasn't bad, either, with 660 yards mostly in the first three games. Receiver Jeremy Ebert topped 1,000 yards and had 11 touchdown catches, while Drake Dunsmore and Colter, who switched mainly to receiver on Persa's return, combined for nearly another 1,000. Matched with A&M's pass defense, the Wildcats should produce around 300 yards.
There are a few reasons why they might have a tough time getting there. For one, the Aggies' per-attempt pass defense is fairly sound, so it might take more attempts to get to 300 yards than expected. The other roadblock is Texas A&M's great pass rush, which ranks #1 in sacks when adjusted for their opponents. Persa has been sacked 24 times, Colter 8. Meanwhile the Aggies have 43 sacks, with Sean Porter and Damontre Moore combining for 16 themselves. We expect Northwestern's quarterbacks to be sacked five times during the game and have to deal with relentless pressure from A&M; it could be enough to considerably slow the Wildcat offense.
Texas A&M's season
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (3)
Wins vs. top 25 teams (1)
Losses (6) to losing teams (0)
- SMU 46-14
- Idaho 37-7
- #3 Oklahoma St 29-30
- = #6 Arkansas 38-42
- @ Texas Tech 45-40
- #15 Baylor 55-28
- @ Iowa St 33-17
- Missouri 31-38 OT
- @ #21 Oklahoma 25-41
- @ #13 Kansas St 50-53 4OT
- Kansas 61-7
- Texas 25-27
High expectations gave way to major disappointment for the Aggies. They started the year in some people's top ten (ours too) and looked it after two games. Considering Oklahoma State and Arkansas are currently in the top ten, losses by a combined 5 points isn't so bad. They were 5-2 going into the Missouri game.
But that's when their penchant for losing big leads really became a problem. They'd led Oklahoma State by 17, Arkansas by 18, and Missouri by 14. The Tigers tied the game and won in overtime. The Aggies then lost to Oklahoma, then Kansas State in four overtimes after leading by 10 in the 4th quarter. The Texas game was the last straw; they led by 13 early but lost by 2.
The offense really didn't ever let the team down, but the defense had major lapses. In the end, however, they still rated as a top ten team, as four of their losses were to Top 25 teams, and two others were to bowl teams. Two were overtime losses, and three others were by a combined 7 points. They smoked Baylor and beat two more bowl teams. They are a prime example of a team with a mediocre record that's actually very good, but there could be something to their team psyche that's allowing these comeback wins. Playing at home doesn't seem to have helped; in fact, three of their meltdowns occurred at home.
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (1)
Wins vs. top 25 teams (1)
Losses (6) to losing teams (1)
- @ Boston College 24-17
- E. Illinois 42-21
- @ Army 14-21
- @ Illinois 35-38
- #11 Michigan 24-42
- @ Iowa 31-41
- #23 Penn State 24-34
- @ Indiana 59-38
- @ #16 Nebraska 28-25
- Rice 28-6
- Minnesota 28-13
- #17 Michigan St 17-31
Northwestern started slow with Dan Persa still recovering from last year's Achilles' heel problem. They beat Boston College by just a touchdown and FCS Eastern Illinois by 21, but lost to Army.
With Persa back the offense immediately improved, but they lost to four bowl teams to start 2-5. The schedule turned easier and they won four straight—including a huge win at Nebraska. They lost to the Spartans in their season finale.
The defense was terrible until the last four games when it became more than respectable, especially against Nebraska, Rice, and Minnesota. But those three are all poor passing teams, as were Boston College and Army, the other teams the defense did well against.
Aggie running back Cyrus Gray should be back for the bowl game, but they're still without Christine Michael and Gray probably won't be 100%. Northwestern's defense is a big banged-up, with corner Jordan Mabin out and safety Brian Peters playing with a broken hand.
- Texas A&M's season: -3 wins; Northwestern's season: -1 win
- Texas A&M's momentum: -2 wins; Northwestern's momentum: +4 wins
- Texas A&M won final game: NO; Northwestern won final game: NO
- Texas A&M glad to be there? no; Northwestern glad to be there: yes
- Texas A&M coaching situation: fired, interim coach; Northwestern coaching situation: stable
Texas A&M's emotions must have been pulled 100 different ways during this season and before the bowl game. Not only was their season a roller coaster, each game was, at least the games where they grabbed a big lead and failed to hold it. Now, blowing a lead has to always be in the back of their mind. Those blown leads directly led to Mike Sherman's firing as head coach (while he was on a recruiting visit), and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will coach the football game.
More significantly, senior offensive lineman Joseph Villanisencio was killed in a car accident on December 22. He wasn't a starter and only played in two games this year, but was apparently well-liked and the event has to affect the other players.
It's hard to say what all this will mean for the team's performance. Some of the events will damped their enthusiasm, others may give them resolve. It could vary by individual players. By comparison, Northwestern's emotional state is pretty irrelevant. They seem to be "up" for pretty much every game, and play to the level of their competition regardless.
The myth about Texas A&M's pass defense is that it's terrible. It does rank #113 in raw passing yards allowed per game. But correct that for the tough passing teams they've faced and they're a much better #90. And on a per-attempt basis, they're a respectable #37. Teams simply don't run against their top ten rushing defense, so passing is all that's left to try. Northwestern, on the other hand, really does have a bad pass defense. They're #58 raw, but #110 when corrected. A&M should have an easy time moving the ball through the air.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, it looks like their habit of losing leads (and losing those games) has worked its way into their minds and perhaps become self-fulfilling. Also, teams now understands that you don't ever give up against Texas A&M, because they might let you back in the game. So if Northwestern is down by 14, or 21, or 28, they won't give up.
Of course, Northwestern never gives up anyway; they are routinely pesky and stick with superior opponents. Look at their recent bowl record, where they played heavily favored Missouri (-12), Auburn (-9), and Texas Tech (-7) extremely tight, taking the first two teams into overtime and losing the other game by a touchdown.
The recent events surrounding the Aggies will sap a lot of the 20+ point margin that their talent would normally give them. Or, they'll lead the game by three touchdowns at some point before the inevitable comeback occurs. Northwestern is the exact kind of team to do it, too. But the Wildcats also haven't gotten over the hump to win their first bowl game since 1948. Though most of Texas A&M's emotion will be negative and troubled, in the end there will also be strong desire to get the win for their teammate who was killed. It doesn't matter if it's 21 points or 1 points or in triple overtime.
One team's curse is going to end in this game. A&M's is losing games after blowing a big lead, and it has lasted ll this season. Northwestern's curse—close but no cigar in bowl games—has survived many seasons. If the Aggies need a stop, or one more drive to win it, they'll probably get it this time.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Northwestern 33
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2011-2012 bowl game schedule.