The 2018 Holiday Bowl will pit the Big Ten Conference and Pac-12 against each other this season. Northwestern will face Utah on Dec. 31 (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1). Here is the 2018 Holiday Bowl preview:
Northwestern Wildcats (8-5)
Northwestern opened 1-3 and looked as if its season was over before it really started. It did not help that leading rusher Jeremy Larkin took a medical retirement from football.
That was a big blow to coach Pat Fitzgerald and Co., but freshman Isaiah Bowser has been a solid replacement, rushing for 796 yards and six touchdowns, and was a big reason the Wildcats went on to win seven of eight and win the Big Ten West Division. Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson did not have a strong season from a numbers standpoint (15 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions, sacked 33 times), but his leadership could prove invaluable for a game like this.
Over its final six regular-season games, Northwestern held five of its opponents to 17 or fewer points. The only defeat during that stretch came 31-21 to Notre Dame.
The Wildcats are also in position to win a third consecutive bowl game.
No. 20 Utah Utes (9-4)
Like Northwestern, Utah overcame its own injury issues to win the Pac-12 South. Running back Zack Moss suffered a season-ending knee injury in early November, but Armand Shyne has been a solid replacement.
Meanwhile, quarterback Tyler Huntley, injured the same time as Moss, could possibly return for this contest. If not, backup Jason Shelley should remain under center.
It’s also uncertain if All-American linebacker Chase Hansen will be available for this contest after he was banged up in the Pac-12 title game-loss to Washington. The Utes lost that matchup 10-3, and allowed just Arizona State on Nov. 3 to score more than 28 points against them this season.
Utah, meanwhile, has also shined on the bowl scene of late, and will try to win a six straight such contest.
Two teams that were runner-ups in their respective conferences look to cap successful seasons with a bowl victory. Both have had to overcome injury losses at key offensive positions, so there should not be anything that will phase them. Whichever defense makes the fewest mistakes or allows less big plays should come out victorious, however, the Wildcats might have the more complete offense to prevail.
Northwestern 26, Utah 24
Ranking reflects that of The Associated Press Top 25
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