Music City Bowl
Kentucky (7-5) vs. No. 21 Northwestern (9-3)
Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m. ET, Nashville (ESPN)
Northwestern -8, O/U: 51
HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE
Kentucky: Kentucky started the season 5-1, but, with close decisions over teams like Southern Miss, Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan, it didn’t feel like that kind of success would last. It didn’t. The Wildcats lost four of their final six games, including blowouts at the hands of Georgia and Louisville to close out the regular season. UK did beat two bowl teams — South Carolina and Missouri — early in the year, however, so there were definitely positive moments.
Northwestern: Northwestern enters bowl play on a seven-game winning streak. The Wildcats started the season 2-3 with their losses coming to Duke, Wisconsin (then ranked No. 10) and Penn State (then ranked No. 4). From there, the Wildcats tied their longest winning streak (2012-13) of the Pat Fitzgerald tenure with seven straight victories. Along the way, Northwestern won in overtime in three straight weeks, including a triple-overtime decision over then-No. 16 Michigan State.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky: Snell is definitely one of the most underrated running backs in the country. The sophomore was a second-team All-SEC selection this season and enters bowl play with 1,318 yards (24th-most in the country) and 18 touchdowns (tied 5th-most). He was a workhorse, too. His 256 attempts are the 10th-most in the country and second behind only Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson in the SEC. Snell also tallied seven 100-yard games on the year.
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern: The Big Ten’s Wildcats have a durable running back, too. In fact, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson is just the second player in Big Ten history and eighth in FBS history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in four straight seasons. Here’s how productive Jackson has been throughout his career: this year’s 1,154 yards are a career low, though he’ll surely pass his freshman total of 1,187 yards in this one.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Snell trying to best Northwestern and its No. 10 rush defense (just 111.3 ypg) will be fun to watch. Paddy Fisher leads the way for Northwestern’s defense at linebacker with 110 tackles. If Northwestern keys too much on Snell, UK QB Stephen Johnson can hurt them with his arm and his legs.
WHAT’S ON THE LINE: Northwestern can win eight games in a row for the first time in Fitzgerald’s 12-year tenure as head coach while also reaching the 10-win plateau for the third time. A win over Kentucky would be the third since 2012 for Northwestern, a program that previously had not won a bowl game since 1948. A win would be Kentucky’s first in a bowl since 2008, give the program eight wins for the first time since 2007 and mark the best season in Mark Stoops’ five years in Lexington.
Nick: Northwestern 23, Kentucky 13
Sam: Northwestern 31, Kentucky 17
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