In their final game before leaving the Pac 12 and joining the Big 12, Utah Football will face off against Big 10 foe Northwestern in the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl Game. The Utes come into the game with an 8-4 record while the Wildcats posted a 7-5 record this season.
This game is set up to be a very interesting matchup which will feature two excellent defenses facing off against offenses that struggled during the regular season and will be missing key players through the transfer portal and opt-outs.
On paper, Utah would appear to be the clear favorite with the better record, the tougher strength of schedule, and proximity to Las Vegas which will likely feature a very friendly crowd to the team in red.
However, one storyline to watch will be motivation. Northwestern came into the season with no expectations, and were projected to finish last in the Big 10. With the hazing scandal, the dismissal of coach Pat Fitzgerald, and everything else falling apart for the program the Wildcats were expected to be a complete non-factor.
Utah on the other hand came into the season coming off back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances and hopes to making it a third, albeit as an underdog to teams including USC, Oregon, and Washington. Utah had a good season, going 8-4, but it certainly fell short of where they hoped to be.
With these two story lines coming into the game, it’s not hard to imagine Northwestern coming in with a lot to prove while Utah limps in having already accepted the season as a disappointment. When this happens, typically the ‘favorite’ struggles and often loses.
Players Not Playing in the Bowl Game
Utah will be without starting safety and captain Cole Bishop, two way star Sione Vaki, receiver DeVaugh Vele, and offensive lineman Keaton Bills. Starting QB Bryson Barnes plans to play, however has already entered the transfer portal leaving some to wonder how much he will really be willing to put himself in harms way or dangerous situations.
Northwestern doesn’t seem to have any significant transfers or players opting out of the game.
How to Watch:
Saturday, December 23rd, 7:30 PM ET on ABC or ESPN+
There was a time when Utah didn’t lose bowl games under Kyle Whittingham and they held a 7-1 record. Since then, the Utes have dropped four straight bowl games, and that streak will continue into tonight as Utah will have just too many players not playing to come up with points against Northwestern.
Northwestern clearly wants to play in this game and build towards next year, and that will be enough to pull off what I believe will be a close on the scoreboard, but dominant between the trenches game.
Final Score: Northwestern 24, Utah 14