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Meineke Car Care Bowl
Texas A & M vs. Northwestern
Saturday, Dec. 31, 12:00 pm ESPN
Ah, the pageantry that is the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Just so we are clear here, I am referring to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas that is at noon on Dec. 31 in Houston. NOT to the former Meineke Car Care Bowl that used to be in Charlotte and is now called the Belk Bowl. Now the bowl games are moving around like the conferences are.
This game between Texas A&M (6-6), playing its final game as a member of the Big 12, and Northwestern (6-6), of the Big Ten, certainly should be one of the highest-scoring bowl games of the year because both have dynamic offenses (A&M is No. 11 in scoring and Northwestern is No. 51) and very questionable defenses.
It’s a unique dynamic for the Aggies, who were a chic preseason Big 12 Champion pick but blew huge leads all season: Five halftime leads of double digits and another by nine against rival Texas equaled their six losses.
A&M closed losing four of five, with the last on a field goal as time expired against the Horns.
That led to the firing of head coach Mike Sherman. He will be replaced by former Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin. The current A&M staff will continue to prepare and coach this bowl game while Sumlin handles recruiting with A&M headed to the SEC next season. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has taken over as an interim coach, which is rather weird since defense was a weakness this year – but Sherman was the team’s offensive coordinator so I guess the school had no other choice. DeRuyter said offensive line coach Jim Turner will call the plays in the bowl game. DeRuyter says quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley, running backs coach Randy Jordan and receivers coach Troy Walters will also offer input.
It’s the final game for A&M QB Ryan Tannehill. In an odd stat, he is the only player in NCAA history to record more than 4,000 yards passing and 1,500 yards receiving as well as the only player to record a 400-yard passing game and a 200-yard receiving game. Tannehill played receiver his first few seasons at A&M.
Defensively, the Aggies lead the nation with 43 sacks and are 15th in the country against the run. Yet they still allow nearly 29 points per game. It’s not clear if Aggies leading rusher Cyrus Gray will play. He missed the Texas game with a stress fracture in his shoulder and his chances of suiting up are 50-50.
A&M has lost its last five postseason contests, including the last two under Sherman to Georgia in the 2009 Independence Bowl and to LSU in the Cotton Bowl following last season.
Northwestern is playing in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive season, but it still hasn’t won one since the Rose Bowl at the end of the 1948 season. It feels like Wildcats QB Dan Persa has been in Evanston forever, but this will be his first bowl game. He missed the TicketCity Bowl loss to Texas Tech in Dallas last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Persa was a preseason dark-horse Heisman candidate but missed the beginning of the season as he recovered from that injury.
Northwestern closed the season pretty strong, winning four straight until a regular-season-ending 31-17 loss to Michigan State. That loss was doubly painful as the team’s top cornerback, Jordan Mabin, was injured against the Spartans and won’t be able to play in the bowl. A&M and Northwestern have never played. The teams don’t have any common opponents from this season.
This will basically be a road game for Northwestern as the crowd should be about 95 percent Aggies fans as the campus is about 90 miles from Houston. But maybe that’s a good thing. Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.
I don’t doubt A&M has more talent, but with all the coaching turmoil the team probably won’t be very focused. I have Texas A&M winning this game by a little more than a touchdown and right now they are giving away double digits so that makes this game very interesting for me. I lean towards Northwestern taking the points but will not make a final decision until closer to game time. Along with expecting this to be a high scoring game. Very small plays on this game since we are on a nice roll now.
NORTHWESTERN +11 (buy pt) (Opinion)
NORTHWESTERN/TEXAS A&M OVER 69 POINTS or
NORTHWESTERN OVER 30 POINTS (TEAM TOTAL) (Opinion)