Northwestern Wildcats (6-6 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4 SU, 5-7 ATS)
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Date/Time: Wednesday, December 28, 2016 at 2PM EST
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: NW +5.5/PITT -5.5
Over/Under Total: 65
In what looks to be a very interesting Pinstripe Bowl from Yankee Stadium, the Northwestern Wildcats take on the Pittsburgh Panthers on December 28. Pittsburgh had a very interesting season with a few big highlights in their 8-4 season. They enter this matchup on a 3-game win streak where their performances were eye-popping. They are on a roll and now turn to a Northwestern bunch that was up-and-down this season, but ended the season on a winning note and won 5 of their last eight games. They're probably better than their 6-6 record indicates.
Pittsburgh was also up-and-down this season, though their ups were a lot higher than Northwestern's. They beat a Penn State team earlier in the season that would go on to do big things, in addition to beating a CFP-bound Clemson team, 43-32, on November 12. They have beaten two teams in the top five. A loss to Oklahoma State and conference defeats to North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Miami spoiled what could have otherwise been a great season. To close the regular season, they won a record-setting 76-61 barnburner against Syracuse on November 26.
With 175 combined points in their last three games, offense is obviously the name of the game for Pitt. Only once in their last 11 games have they not scored at least 36 points and they topped out at 76 in their last game. QB Nathan Peterman has been good this season with 26 touchdowns and just 6 picks on 2602 yards passing. Jester Weah and Scott Orndoff are two of his top weapons aerially. On the ground, they've been pretty deadly lately, with almost 400 on the ground in their last game. James Conner is over 1000 yards and has also been a useful weapon aerially. He has 20 touchdowns on the season and this will be his last game after an inspirational comeback from cancer. Quadree Henderson has also shined on the ground with 555 yards on only 54 carries, while also giving Pittsburgh a special teams weapon on returns. Peterman has also contributed on the ground. There is also a smattering of role players who can step up at any given time to spring forth with a big play. A lot of guys have done damage in this offense.
The sticking point for the Pittsburgh defense is their performance against the opposing passing-attack. They give up a god-awful 343 yards per game through the air. Their effectiveness against the run is more a byproduct of how easy it is for teams to exploit this "D" aerially. They're giving up over 35 points a game, ending the season with Syracuse putting 61 points on them. Against teams of Northwestern's caliber, they have been highly suspect. They try to win shootouts. They just hope their offense is able to out-leg the damage allowed on the other side of the ball.
After the first two games of the season, it didn't look like Northwestern would even make it to this spot. A loss to Western Michigan wasn't so bad, as WMU went unbeaten on the season. But losing to FCS foe Illinois State at home was a bad sign. But they righted the ship and scored some nice wins, including road wins over Iowa and Michigan State, in addition to a narrow 4-point loss to CFP-bound Ohio State. A 21-point win over Illinois got them here and one should expect a good effort from a NW team that showed some guts this season.
The Northwestern defense has similar balance issues that Pittsburgh has, though to a less-drastic degree. They've been pretty good against the run, while not terribly robust against the pass. They gave up a lot less than Pitt did this season in allowing just 22.1 points per game. But they were 108th against the pass. They had some playmaking ability, with corner Montre Hartage picking off five passes. In nine games this season, they allowed 24 or fewer points. They've been pretty consistent, though against Pittsburgh, they will be put to the test in a big way. They have performed well against some tough Big Ten offenses this season, but this might be a different ball game against the Panthers.
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The Northwestern offense was a pretty so-so group this season, certainly nothing compared to what the Panthers bring to the table. They averaged less than 26 points a game. The offense is commandeered by Clayton Thorson, a talented sophomore who was just short of 3000 yards with 21 touchdowns. He also ran in five touchdowns. On the ground, they are led by a good back in workhorse Justin Jackson, who ran for 1300 yards and 12 touchdowns. Through the air, Thorson has connected well with Austin Carr, who caught 84 passes for 1196 yards and 12 touchdowns. Flynn Nagel, Andrew Scanlan, and slot-back Garrett Dickerson have also contributed. There have been some duds in recent weeks—a 12-point performance against Minnesota and putting up 7 against a really good Wisconsin defense. But they showed life by scoring 42 in their last game and 45 a few weeks before that. They should be able to have their moments against a Pittsburgh defense that can be awfully-leaky.
Pittsburgh shines brighter in this spot. While Northwestern was off-the-radar for all but the most committed college football fans, Pitt was making headlines—with the wins over Penn State and Clemson, in addition to winning the record-setting shootout with Syracuse. All that shines is not gold, however, as Pittsburgh shouldn't be judged solely on their high-water marks of the season. There was a lot of other times where the problems they have shined through in vivid color. The last two Pinstripe Bowls have gone to overtime in good games and I see something similar in this matchup. I see Northwestern's offense having a good game and keeping pace en route to a cover for the Wildcats.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Northwestern Wildcats plus 5.5 points. Bet the Northwestern vs. Pittsburgh game for FREE by taking advantage of a massive 100% sign-up bonus on your first deposit of $100 to $500 at GTBets!