Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern Pinstripe Bowl Expert Picks and Predictions
by Chris Vasile - 12/21/2016
Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Northwestern Wildcats, Wednesday Dec. 28, 2 p.m. ET
The New Era Pinstripe Bowl takes place at Yankee Stadium and has been contested six times before this year. The inaugural game took place in 2010, when Syracuse beat Kansas State 36-34, in front of more than 38,000 fans. This bowl game was originally tied exclusively to the Big 12 and the old Big East Conference (which is now the American), but in 2014 it signed an exclusivity deal with ACC and Big Ten. The ACC agreed to a six-year deal, which will get them a representative in this game until 2019, while the Big Ten signed an eight-year deal and will be represented until 2021.
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This year's edition has the Pittsburgh Panthers up against the Northwestern Wildcats. If the previous Pinstripe Bowl games are any indication, we could be in for a lot of points and possibly overtime as the last two games have gone past 60 minutes of play.
Pittsburgh will be making their 33rd bowl appearance dating back to 1927. They own a 13-19 record overall and have lost their last two bowl games in a row and four out of their last five. Their last bowl win was against Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Bowl of 2013.
For Northwestern, this will be their 13th bowl appearance dating back to 1948. That year, they beat California in the Rose Bowl and then didn't make another bowl game until 1995. Overall, they have a record of 2-10 and lost eight straight bowl games from 1995-2011. Their last win was in the 2012 Gator Bowl.
Pinstripe Bowl Betting Storylines
Pittsburgh comes into this game with an 8-4 record, which is good enough for fourth in the ACC. They ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak and impressively put up 76 points in the finale against Syracuse. During the win streak, Pittsburgh scored at least 43 points in every game but the defense was shredded for an average of 39 points per game. Over the entire season, the Panthers averaged 42.3 points per game and surrendered 35.6
They were led this season by quarterback Nathan Peterman, who threw for 2,602 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions. Peterman has taken his game to another level over the final three games of the regular season. He threw for 12 touchdowns with just two interceptions against Clemson, Duke and Syracuse combined. His top receiver, Jester Weah, will be looking to add on to what's been an already efficient season. Weah caught just 34 passes, but he scored nine touchdowns and racked up 795 yards. That's an average of 23.5 yards per catch. The other key element to the Pitt offense is the re-emergence and return to form of their star running back, James Conner. Conner sat out all but one game in 2015 with a torn ACL and a bout of lymphoma, but he has been nothing short of stellar this season. He has rushed for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns, with four receiving touchdowns. Conner was just given the Brian Piccolo Award for the "Most Courageous" football player in the ACC. From a betting perspective, the most courageous thing about this game is betting on a team with a defense as bad as the Panthers.
Northwestern comes into this game with a 6-6 record, which was good enough for fifth place in the Big Ten West. The Wildcats needed a win on the final day of the regular season over Illinois to become bowl eligible and got the job done by winning 42-21 in front of their home fans. This year the Wildcats averaged 25.6 points for per game and gave up 22.1. Offensively, the main attraction is running back Justin Jackson. The junior RB produced a solid stat line with 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. He can't do it alone, though, and will need his quarterback, Clayton Thorson, to lead a solid passing attack that will keep the defense honest and allow Jackson some space running the football. Thorson had a rough start to the season, throwing for just five touchdowns to go along with four interceptions. The team suffered to a 1-3 start. Since then, the sophomore QB has been solid, completing 60 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and four INTs.
Make no mistakes about it though, the defensive unit has always been the main strength of this team, and it ranks 23rd in the country for points allowed. The unit gives up just over 490 yards per game, which makes them the definition of a bend-but-don't-break defense. They will be in tough to contain an offense as potent as the Panthers' but should benefit from having more than a month to study film.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The Panthers are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games in December and 0-6 in their last six against nonconference opponents. The "over" is 6-1 in their last seven nonconference games and 4-0 in their last four bowl games.
Northwestern is 5-0 ATS in their last five games versus the Big Ten but just 2-5 ATS vs. teams with a winning record. Totals wise, they are the complete opposite off Pitt and trend heavy to the "under". The "under" is 4-1 in their last five versus the ACC and 20-7 in their last 27 nonconference games.
This bowl game is about as contrasting in styles as it gets. On one sideline we have a high-flying offense that can put up points in a hurry but with a defense that probably couldn't stop a pop-warner team. And in the other corner we have an inconsistent offense that benefits greatly from their solid defensive unit.
Most people would ultimately side with the defensive team, since "defense wins championships," but I am going the opposite way. I am taking Pittsburgh in this game and I have a tremendous amount of confidence in their defensive unit to contain Northwestern's inconsistent offense.
Think about it, if Pittsburgh goes up by two or more scores, do you trust the Northwestern offense to abandon their run-first game plan and start throwing the ball 40-odd times to get back in the game? Thorson has been playing well, but I think the Panthers are a team on a mission and I believe they will want this game more than their opponent.
On paper, the Panthers have the better strength of schedule and better victories overall. They knocked off No.5 Clemson to kick start their three-game win-streak and even beat the eventual Big Ten champions Penn State. Northwestern's best win is against Iowa, on Oct. 1, when Iowa was struggling to find consistency.
Lay the points and watch the Pittsburgh offense do what it does best - score plenty of points.
Pick: Pittsburgh -5.5, -110
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