Who Has The Edge: MCCBOT

Northwestern looks to end the 63-year bowl drought on Saturday morning, when the Wildcats meet with Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Go inside what should be an exciting matchup with this PurpleWildcats.com preview.

When Texas A&M Has the Ball

Despite finishing 6-6, offense was never a problem for Texas A&M this season, as the Aggies rank No. 11 in scoring, No. 18 in passing yards and No. 19 in rushing yards, nationally.

However, getting offense at the right time has been a problem, as A&M has struggled in the second half at times, blowing big leads in the process.

Nevertheless, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been impressive this season, throwing for 3.415 yards and 28 touchdowns. However, he also has 14 interceptions and must take better care of the football.

Tannehill has great receiving weapons, particularly Ryan Swope, who finished the regular season with 1,102 yards and 11 touchdowns. Jeff Fuller has also been impressive, adding 709 yards and five touchdowns.

The Aggies' running game has been solid, as well, as Cyrus has 1,045 yards and 12 touchdowns with a 5.3-yard average. He was injured at the end of the regular season but will likely play in the bowl. Second-leading rusher Christine Michael will miss the bowl due to injury.

The A&M offense should be able to feast on an inconsistent Northwestern defense that ranks No. 65 with 27.3 points allowed per game. The most crucial matchup will be the Aggies' passing game against the Wildcats' secondary.

Senior corner Jordan Mabin is out, meaning Daniel Jones will likely start in his place. Jones was victimized by Michigan State's passing game to end the regular season and must play better against a passing attack that is just as good, if not better.

Edge: Texas A&M

When Northwestern Has the Ball

Northwestern's offense is one of the most dynamic in the country considering all of the different personnel packages the Wildcats can run.

Kain Colter has been an extraordinary tool for the Wildcats as both a quarterback and a wide receiver. Colter is an extremely mobile quarterback — he leads the Cats in rushing — but has also made great improvement in the passing game.

However, when he isn't at quarterback, he is also a threat at wide receiver.

Starting quarterback Dan Persa isn't nearly the same threat to run as he was last year, but he is still mobile in the pocket and extremely accurate in the passing game, coming in with a 74.2-percent completion percentage and a 17-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Persa has some outstanding targets in the receiving game besides Colter, including seniors Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore.

With the loss of Mike Trumpy, the Cats' running game has taken a hit, but Colter has done a good job filling that void.

Expect Persa and and Colter to both have big games and exploit the Aggies' weak defense, which ranks No. 76 in the country, allowing 28.7 points per game.

Edge: Northwestern

Special Teams

Special teams has been an Achilles heel for Northwestern all season long, especially in the kicking game, as Jeff Budzien is just 6-10 this season on field goals. Punting has also been and issue for the Wildcats, as Brandon Williams has been wildly inconsistent.

Despite the kicking issues, Venric Mark has improved as the year has gone on in the return game and will be a legitimate threat against the Aggies.

Texas A&M's Randy Bullock has been a much more reliable kicker than Budzien, going 25-29 on field goals with a long of 52. The A&M return game, like Northwestern's, has been decent.

With more consistency at kicker, A&M gets the edge.

Edge: Texas A&M

Coaching

With A&M firing Mike Sherman before the bowl game, Tim DeRuyter will take over as the Aggies' interim head coach. DeRuyter was the defensive coordinator this season, but will only be the head coach for this game, as Houston's Kevin Sumlin takes over next season.

Northwestern's coaching situation is much more stable, with Pat Fitzgerald on the sidelines. Fitzgerald is known as a great motivator and will certainly be motivated to get a win and break the Wildcats' 63-year bowl losing streak.

That stability and motivation gives NU the edge

Edge: Northwestern

Intangibles

Motivation and the "want to be there" factor are always big in bowl games and intangibles can cause more-talented, heavy favorites to lose to inferior teams.

The motivation is certainly there for Northwestern. Not only are the players looking to get the "63-year old monkey" off their backs, as Fitzgerald put it, the current seniors are the winningest and most decorated senior class in NU history. They'll be motivated to go out with a bowl win to cement their legacy in Evanston.

Texas A&M's motivation is a little harder to figure out. The Aggies had BCS bowl aspirations at the beginning of the season, but the inability to finish games sent them to 6-6. Not having Sherman on the sidelines could also be a factor.

However, the Aggies will be motivated to get a win for Joseph Villavisencio, an offensive lineman who was killed in a car crash last Thursday.

In addition, A&M is playing much closer to home than Northwestern is.

But with the Aggies' confidence certainly shaken from the second-half collapses this season, the disappointment of a 6-6 season and the coaching uncertainties combined with NU's desire to finally win a bowl game for the first time in 63 years, the Wildcats will have the intangible edge.

Edge: Northwestern

What Will Happen

If this game follows the script of the regular season for either team, both will jump out to fast offensive starts, but cool off as the game goes on.

The Northwestern offense will have a big day, as Dan Persa and Jeremy Ebert combine for some big touchdowns, and Colter will be used for a couple of big trick plays, as well — what's an NU bowl game without Pat Fitzgerald calling a trick play?

However, Ryan Tannehill will also have a big day picking apart the Northwestern secondary and the Wildcats will fail to stop the Aggies on late touchdown drive to seal the deal.

Score Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Northwestern 34


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