Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Not to be confused with the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Alaska, the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas is played in Houston’s Reliant Stadium and features another Big 10-Big 12 matchup between Northwestern and Texas A&M.
These teams enter this game headed in opposite directions. Northwestern started the year slowly and suffered a five-game losing streak before righting the ship and winning four of its final five games, including an upset of then-#10 Nebraska. The Wildcats are looking to end an eight-game skid in bowl games that dates back to the 1949 Rose Bowl.
Texas A&M came into the season with high expectations after a breakout 9-4 campaign a year ago. The Aggies started the year ranked in the top ten but were done in by an inability to protect second-half leads. They were 5-2 after defeating Iowa State but lost four of their next five games to finish a disappointing 6-6 in their last season in the Big 12 before heading to the SEC. Coach Mike Sherman was fired as a result, and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter was named interim head coach for the bowl game.
Key matchup: Each team’s defense against the other’s quarterbacks
Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill (L) and Northwestern's Dan Persa (R)
Both teams feature mobile quarterbacks who can run. Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill is a former wide receiver who can gash a defense with his wheels. Northwestern’s Dan Persa and backup QB/WR Kain Colter can both escape the rush and are sometimes called upon to run the ball in the Wildcats’ spread-option attack. Northwestern’s running game will be tested by A&M’s stout run defense while A&M might struggle to run the ball after losing its top-two running backs to injury. The passing game figures to take prominence for both teams in this one, so whichever team does the best job of containing the opponent’s quarterback will come out on top.
Why you should watch: There figure to be plenty of offensive fireworks in this game as both teams have talented quarterbacks with plenty of weapons who will be facing questionable defenses. Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa leads the country in completion percentage at 74.2 percent and was 10th in passer rating. He suffered an Achilles injury last year that forced him to miss time this season but still managed to throw for 2,163 yards with 17 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. His backup, Kain Colter, proved to be a dangerous dual-threat quarterback in his own right. Both will be looking for receiver Jeremy Ebert (1,025 yards, 11 touchdowns) and tight end Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern’s all-time leading receiver and recipient of the Big 10’s tight end of the year award. They figure to have a big day against A&M’s porous pass defense (113th in the country).
On the flip side, the Aggies have some offensive playmakers of their own, starting with senior quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Behind Tannehill, who threw for 3,415 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, Texas A&M ranked 7th in total offense and 11th in points per game. Receiver Ryan Swope had 81 receptions for 1,102 yards and 11 touchdowns. They’ll be able to score against a Northwestern defense that was 65th overall in scoring defense. Plus, there’s the car wreck factor: A&M has a tendency to self-destruct, and you won’t be able to tear your eyes away. Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game in eight tries, and have lost their last three in excruciating fashion.
Why you shouldn’t watch: Texas A&M has already fired its head coach, and its interim coach has accepted a job at Fresno State. How prepared will the Aggies be? Will they come ready to play, or will they just go through the motions? We already saw how a lame-duck coach affected a team in the Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State was not ready to play and got embarrassed by Boise State. It’s a de facto home game for the Aggies, but will they show up?
Prediction: This is a tough call. A&M is the more talented team and would normally be the logical pick here. However, I’m not sure what their mental state is going to be. I’m going with sentimentality and picking Northwestern to finally win a bowl game behind a big day from Persa. Wildcats win a wild one that probably comes down to the final possession or overtime(s).