WHO: No. 21 Northwestern (9-3) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
WHAT: The 20th Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
THE SKINNY: It was not all that long ago the thought of Northwestern being able to win a bowl game seemed like an impossible feat, but the times have changed. This year, the Wildcats are going for their second-straight bowl victory in as many years for the first time in school history. In order to get it, they will have to fend off the Wildcats of the SEC from Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, where the Wildcats figure to have a bit of an advantage in the crowd.
Kentucky slides into the bowl season with more than enough wins to be here, but they do so having lost two straight games by a combined score of 86-30 against division foe Georgia and in-state rival Louisville. Defensively, Kentucky was overmatched by the eventual SEC champions and playoff participant and a Louisville team and Heisman finalist Lamar Jackson out for revenge from last season. So how much can Mark Stoops regroup Kentucky to prepare for what could be a decent battle with Northwestern?
For Kentucky, converting inside the red zone will be essential. Kentucky has left too many points on the field by having to settle for field goal attempts this season once getting inside the 20-yard line. In 39 red zone trips, Kentucky has scored just 24 touchdowns and had to kick 12 field goals. Northwestern has been much more successful in the red zone with 39 red zone touchdowns (in 54 trips), with 10 field goals.
Kentucky’s offense will be fueled by running back Benny Snell, who has rushed for 1,318 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Stephen Johnson has done well in avoiding making too many costly mistakes, and he’ll have to do that again against a feisty Northwestern defense.
This will also be a chance for Northwestern running back Justin Jackson to shine in one final game for the Wildcats. One of the top running backs in the Big Ten a year ago, Jackson got lost in the shuffle of talented running backs in the conference this season, but still rushed for 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns. Expect him to be a factor against the 61st-ranked run defense of Kentucky.
THE PICK: Northwestern 30, Kentucky 26