2017 Music City Bowl Preview: Battle of the Wildcats
The 20th edition of the Music City Bowl is shaping up to be an interesting one. On one hand, there is Northwestern who is looking for a third 10-win season in the last five years. On the other is Kentucky who is trying for its first eight-win season since 2009. With that in mind, let’s begin the 2017 Music City Bowl Preview: Battle Of The Wildcats.
Bowl And Series History
Kentucky is playing in their 17th bowl in school history. They have an 8-8 record all-time. However, they have lost their last three and six of nine. Last season they lost to Georgia Tech 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The Wildcats have played in more Music City Bowls than any other team with five appearances. They are two and two all-time with the last coming in 2009 losing to Clemson 21-13.
Northwestern is playing in their 14th bowl game in school history. They have a 3-10 record all-time. These Wildcats won their first bowl game in 1948 beating California 20-14 in the Rose Bowl. However, it would be 47 years before they played in another bowl game losing 41-32 to USC again in the Rose Bowl.
They lost nine in a row before beating Mississippi State in the 2012 Gator Bowl. Last season, they knocked off Pittsburgh 31-24 in the Pinstripe Bowl. This is Northwestern’s first appearance in the Music City Bowl.
The two schools have only met once in history. That came all the way back in 1928 in Evanston with Northwestern defeating Kentucky 7-0.
Battle Of Elite Running Backs
The marquee matchup for the Music City Bowl is between Justin Jackson of Northwestern and Kentucky’s Benjamin Snell Jr. For the season, Jackson has 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns. However, those numbers are the lowest since his freshman year.
Career-wise, Jackson rates as one of the best in Big 10 history. Currently, Jackson sites fourth all-time in rushing yards with 5,283, putting him only behind Anthony Thompson, Archie Griffin, and Ron Dayne.
On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats of the SEC counter with the sophomore Snell. Following a slow start to 2017 Snell has been on a roll the last five games. Rushing for 777 yards and 12 touchdowns, he ended the year with 1,318 yards and 18 scores. He finished two yards short of Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson for tops in the SEC.
How Kentucky Got To Nashville
For a second straight year, the Wildcats finished the regular season 7-5. However, this doesn’t feel near as good as 2016. The Cats let two games slip away against Florida and Ole Miss.
Furthermore, the 44-17 blowout loss and total meltdown against Louisville left a bad taste in the mouths of True Blue Fans. Mark Stoops’ club comes into Nashville losers of four of their last six. Now to add to the frustration is the announcement on Wednesday that linebacker Denzil Ware is suspended for the game.
Denzil Ware will not play in the bowl game. Stoops says violation of team rules. “No comment” if Ware will be back with the team next season. pic.twitter.com/qmG4zYYe7U
— Jonathan Dunn (@jdunnlex18) December 26, 2017
Lining up with Snell in the backfield is quarterback Stephen Johnson, who will be playing his final game. Johnson started off strong but faded down the stretch due partly to an injured shoulder.
When the Cats throw the ball, Johnson will look for another senior Garrett Johnson. With 46 catches for 500 yards and two scores, Johnson is the Cats most consistent receiver. With a month to rest and prepare Kentucky fans are hoping to see the sharp quarterback they saw in the last part of 2016 and early this season.
Much like Kentucky, Northwestern also ranks last in the Big 10 in pass defense. The Wildcats rank 98th in the country giving up 243 yards through the air.
Looking at Northwestern’s Season
Unlike Kentucky, the Big 10 Wildcats are coming into Nashville on a roll. After a 2-3 start, Pat Fitzgerald’s club ran off seven straight wins to close the season. Included in that run was three straight overtime victories.
Two of those overtime wins came over Iowa and Michigan State. The same Hawkeyes club which blew out Ohio State 55-24 which in part kept the Buckeyes out of the playoffs.
The man under center for Northwestern is quarterback Clayton Thorson. The junior has thrown for 2,809 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has announced he will return for his senior campaign rather than declare for the NFL Draft.
Clayton Thorson is the winningest QB in program history, and tied NU's career TD pass record on Saturday. He earns a consensus Third Team All-Big Ten honor.#B1GCats | #HOMEGROWN pic.twitter.com/7wi62ctEGA
— NorthWWWWWWWestern Football (@NUFBFamily) November 29, 2017
Thorston’s favorite target is Ben Skowronek. His 42 receptions for 619 yards and five touchdowns lead the Wildcats.
However, he does have a tendency to throw interceptions as he has 12 on the year. That could give the Wildcat secondary a chance at some redemption for their awful pass defense. For the season Kentucky ranks last in the SEC and 112th in the nation giving up 263 yards a game.
Who Wins On Friday?
It is prediction time for the 2017 Music Bowl Preview: Battle of the Wildcats. Northwestern comes into this game as a touchdown favorite which seems about right.
In all honesty, the Wildcats should be playing in a bigger bowl than this. However, due to the fact neither Ohio State or Wisconsin made the playoffs, every team slid down the list.
As for Kentucky, a win here would do wonders for Stoops and the fan base. Another late-season slide and embarrassing loss to Louisville left many Cat fans frustrated. The Ware suspension just adds to an already apathetic portion of the Big Blue Nation.
This may come down to who throws the football the best. Kentucky will have its chances but ultimately this one goes to the Big 10.
Northwestern 31 Kentucky 24
Thanks for checking out the 2017 Music City Bowl Preview here at Last Word On College Football. As a reminder, we have you covered with previews of every game leading up to the National Championship.