WHO: No. 23 Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Northwestern (6-6)
WHAT: The 7th NewEra Pinstripe Bowl
WHEN: 2:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Yankee Stadium, New York, NY
THE SKINNY: Pitt running back James Conner will play his final college football game before turning pro in the house that Derek Jeter built, Yankee Stadium. Conner has been one of the true inspirations in college football this season as he has overcome cancer to remain one of the top running backs in the nation. Connor rushed for over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns as a key cog in Pitt’s potent offense. How much they can keep that going in the bowl season will be something to watch after losing offensive coordinator Matt Canada to LSU to be a part of Ed Oregon’s coaching staff in Baton Rouge.
Pitt had the second-highest scoring offense in the ACC this season behind Louisville, with 42.3 points per game, highlighted by a road victory over ACC champion and No. 2 Clemson, an early-season victory over eventual Big Ten champion Penn State, and scoring at least 36 points in all but one game since the season opener. The defense, however, has been the polar opposite of the Pitt offense, giving up at least 30 points in all but two games this season. The season ended by giving up 61 points to Syracuse, although the Panthers managed to get the win.
Northwestern’s offense could struggle to keep up the scoring pace Pitt has been accustomed this season, although the Wildcats have some talent on offense to cause problems for Pitt’s defense. Justin Jackson ended the regular season as the Big Ten’s rushing leader with 1,300 yards (eclipsed only by Wisconsin’s Corey Clement with the benefit of the Big Ten championship game). Jackson averages 108.33 rushing yards per game. The Wildcats also have the Big Ten’s leading receiver, Austin Carr, the only 1,000-yard receiver in the Big Ten this season (84 receptions, 1,196 yards, 12 touchdowns all lead the Big Ten).
The Pinstripe Bowl has packed some fun games the last two years since the ACC and Big Ten paired up for the game. Penn State clipped Boston College in overtime (31-30) two seasons ago and Duke edged Indiana in overtime (44-41) last December. Expect some good offensive fireworks between the Panthers and Wildcats, and another one going the distance.
THE PREDICTION: Pitt 52, Northwestern 46
For the second straight season, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has been named the recipient of the Burlsworth Award. Mayfield is now the first player to win the award two times.
The award is given to college football’s top player who began his career as a walk-on player. Mayfield was originally a walk-on player at Texas Tech before eventually transferring to Oklahoma, where he has emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate and led the Sooners to two consecutive Big 12 championships and one appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Mayfield beat out Washington State quarterback Luke Falk and Northwestern wide receiver Austin Carr for the award. Mayfield will also have a chance to add one more Burlsworth Award to his name next season, as the Sooners passer has already said he will return to Oklahoma for the 2017 season.
On the road against Northwestern, Wisconsin nearly held the Wildcats scoreless in the first half while the Badgers’ running game has effectively controlled the clock. At the half, Wisconsin leads Northwestern 10-7.
A solid defensive battle saw Wisconsin find a crack in the Wildcats defense in the second quarter when Jazz Peavy took off for a 46-yard touchdown run to put Wisconsin up 10-0. Peavy also was on the receiving end of a big play earlier in the game with a 32-yard reception from Bart Houston. That drive led to a field goal. Wisconsin also missed a field goal in the first quarter.
After a real struggle of a first half, Northwestern appeared to find some momentum on their final offensive possession of the half. Clayton Thorson completed a 13-yard pass to Austin Carr for a much-needed touchdown in the final minute of the half.
This is a pretty pivotal game in the Big Ten West. A win keeps a shot at playing for the Big Ten championship within sight. Wisconsin already owns a head-to-head tiebreaker with Nebraska following last week’s win, so a win could give the Badgers the edge in the division depending on what happens to Nebraska later tonight at Ohio State. A Wisconsin win and a Nebraska loss gives Wisconsin the inside track to Indianapolis. The same cannot be said for Northwestern, as the Wildcats lost a head-to-head tiebreaker with Nebraska earlier this season. But a win for the Wildcats keeps them in the mix, while a loss probably knocks them out of the running in the division.