Bowl Breakdown: Outback

Publish date:

Northwestern (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)Jan. 1, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN)

Reason to watch: If your New Year's Eve festivities prove less exciting than you'd hoped, get an early start the next day to watch two entertaining offenses. Behind first-year coach Gene Chizik and innovative offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the Tigers improved from 104th to 20th nationally in total offense. You never know what trick plays and wacky formations Malzahn will unleash. And while the Wildcats' offensive production was more modest (61st), senior quarterback Mike Kafka is a dangerous shotgun-spread passer who delivered five 300-yard passing games.

Keep an eye on: Northwestern's senior defensive end, Corey Wootton. A year ago, the disruptive pass-rusher (he had 10 sacks in 2008) helped the Wildcats slow down Missouri's Chase Daniel for three-plus quarters in the Alamo Bowl before suffering a torn ACL late in the game. Not coincidentally, the Tigers rallied to win in overtime. Wootton was a shell of his former self for much of this season before exploding in a Nov. 7 upset of 9-0 Iowa, sacking Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the end zone and forcing a fumble for a touchdown on the game's pivotal play.

Did you know: Though this will be Chizik's first bowl game as a head coach, he went 6-0 as an assistant in postseason play, winning the 2006 Rose Bowl against USC as Texas' defensive coordinator, the 2003 Capital One, 2003 Music City and 2005 Sugar as Auburn's D-coordinator and the 1988 Citrus and 1989 Gator while a graduate assistant Clemson.

Final analysis: Auburn showed off its stout run defense when it held Heisman winner Mark Ingram to 30 yards in the Nov. 27 Iron Bowl. Fortunately for the Wildcats, they don't run much. Kafka will go out with a big game in a back-and-forth shootout en route to Northwestern's first bowl win in 61 years.

The pick: Northwestern 34, Auburn 31.

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