Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Northwestern (7-5)Jan. 1, Noon ET (ESPNU)
Reason to watch: It's the first football game of 2011. It's also a throwback to New Year's Day pasts, as this first-year game is being played at the Cotton Bowl. (The actual Cotton Bowl is being played at Cowboys Stadium on Jan. 7.) Northwestern, which lost overtime heartbreakers the past two years in the Outback (to Auburn) and Alamo (to Missouri) bowls, will once again be looking to notch its first bowl win since 1949. Texas Tech has a more positive streak going: This is its 11th straight bowl season, the nation's seventh-longest active streak.
Keep an eye on: Northwestern redshirt freshman quarterback Evan Watkins, who had the unenviable task of replacing injured All-Big Ten selection Dan Persa after 10 games. Watkins struggled in his first two starts, as the Wildcats ended the season with lopsided losses to Illinois (48-27) and Wisconsin (70-23). It will be interesting to see whether he's developed after three extra weeks of first-team reps, because he's going against the nation's worst pass defense (306.8 yards per game allowed).
Did you know: The last time Northwestern won a bowl game, Harry Truman was president, Laurence Oliver's Hamlet was in theaters, color television had not yet been introduced in the United States and Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville was still five years away from being born. (It would be another 25 years for Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald.)
Final analysis: While Tuberville initially stuck closely to predecessor Mike Leach's wide-open passing offense, the Red Raiders gradually began emphasizing the run more, rushing for at least 198 yards in three of their last four games. That doesn't bode well for the Wildcats, who gave up 185.2 yards per game on the ground (92nd nationally) and who, minus Persa, lack the firepower to keep up if Tech's offense gets going.
The pick: Texas Tech 31, Northwestern 24
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
Northwestern: LB Quentin Davie -- Davie is a mean, run-stuffing linebacker who occasionally shows skill making plays outside the box. He has the strength to defeat blocks and is a sure-handed tackler who brings ball carriers down on contact. Davie projects to inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense but can also play on the strong side in a conventional alignment. Grade: Fifth-round prospect.
Texas Tech: WR Detron Lewis -- The Red Raiders have produced a fair share of quality receivers for almost a decade, and Lewis is the latest edition. He's a sure-handed, underneath receiver who draws the attention of opponents. Lewis is not a playmaker like former Red Raider Michael Crabtree, but he's a prospect who could find a home as a fourth receiver on an NFL roster. Grade: Fifth-round prospect.
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