After nearly a month away, Northwestern returns to the gridiron for a Las Vegas Bowl clash with the Utah Utes. Will the ‘Cats prevail over Kyle Whittingham’s side for the second time in five years out west? Here’s what our staffers foresee.
Iggy Dowling: Utah 17, Northwestern 13
No matter how weird it is that Bryson Barnes is actually going to play in this game, it’s the wrong alternate game for Mike Bajakian.
Bradley Locker: Northwestern 27, Utah 19
Utah has been ravaged by the transfer portal and NFL Draft on both sides, with marquee losses including two-way star Sione Vaki, Devaughn Vele and two starting offensive linemen. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have remained largely intact and should start 21 of their typical 22 primary players. If Ben Bryant and Northwestern’s pass offense can get clicking against a weaker-than-usual secondary — plus if the ‘Cats can contain Ja’Quinden Jackson and the returning Micah Bernard — then David Braun should be able to pull through. After all, the Utes are 1-4 this year when allowing more than 17 points, and Northwestern did that in nine games.
David Gold: Northwestern 27, Utah 13
The answer is very simple. Northwestern remains intact for the game, while the Utes will be trotting out a shell of their roster. Without star safeties Sione Vaki and Cole Bishop, I think the Utes will struggle to stop the ‘Cats’ receiving corps. In Ben Bryant’s final collegiate game, Mike Bajakian will air the ball out. On the other hand, Bryson Barnes has one foot out the door in Salt Lake City, so the motivation factor for Utah seems low.
Adam Beck: Northwestern 24, Utah 17
In an early regular season non-conference game, I’m taking the Utes every day of the week. But without a couple of their best pass catchers, both starting safeties and two starters on the offensive line to name just a couple of impact players that won’t suit up on Saturday, I like Northwestern’s chances. The ‘Cats are still riding high off a Land of Lincoln trophy-winning performance and have the offensive firepower to win with the passing game. Plus, Northwestern has won its last four bowl games, Utah’s dropped its last four (three of four against Big Ten competition) and the ‘Cats lead the all time series between the two squads 2-1. Either way, the matchup will be dictated by Northwestern’s run defense allowing a Big Ten-worst 159.5 yards per game vs a Utah run game averaging 186.3 yards a contest. If the ‘Cats can stop the run and win up front of offense, they’ve got this one in the bag.
Ascher Levin: Northwestern 21, Utah 17
After a month of practice in preparation for the Las Vegas Bowl, Northwestern will look to win its fourth game in a row to close out the season. Utah is a strong opponent; however, the Utes will be missing many key contributors. They won’t have Devaughn Vele, their best receiver, and Cole Bishop, an NFL-caliber safety. The team also won’t have star safety/running back Sione Vaki, who declared for the draft. Northwestern will be able to exploit Utah’s secondary. Even though quarterback Bryson Barnes is playing, he’s in the transfer portal , which could cause issues with team chemistry. Defensively, the Wildcats will have to limit Barnes and Ja’Quinden Jackson in the run game. Utah won’t have Vele or Mikey Matthews, the team’s third best receiver, and will, most likely, utilize the ground game more than usual. While Utah is favored to win, I think the ‘Cats will prevail and finish their season on a high note.
Natalie Wells: Northwestern 24, Utah 23
The ‘Cats will face a Utah team decimated by the transfer portal and NFL Draft. The Utes rushed for the 26th-most yards per game in the FBS, but they’re missing an explosive athlete in Sione Vaki. Ben Bryant will sling it for over 200 passing yards for just the fourth time this season as NU captures it eighth and final win.
Brendan Preisman: Utah 24, Northwestern 21
After I saw the script helmets on Twitter, I was extremely tempted to roll with the Wildcats all the way. But unfortunately for Northwestern, Utah has very good vibes as well. This Utes team is only 8-4, but those four losses are all to teams currently ranked in the Top 25 (and three of them are in the Top 15). The “pig farmer” quarterback Bryson Barnes (who not so quietly outplayed Caleb Williams when Utah toppled USC in late October) is staying for the bowl game, and that is the main reason I’m picking against the ‘Cats. It’ll be fun, it’ll be close, and the Wildcats will cover. But this Utes team might be one of the three most talented squads Northwestern has faced all year, and that’s why I think the ‘Cats (much like me at the slot machines) will leave Vegas on a loss.
9-3: David Gold
9-2: Brendan Preisman
8-4: Bradley Locker, Ascher Levin
8-3: Ethan Segall
7-5: Iggy Dowling
7-4: Natalie Wells
6-0: Noah Poser
5-2: Ashleigh Provoost
5-1: Patrick Winograd
3-2: John Olsen, Adam Beck
2-1: Miguel Muñoz
2-0: Sammy Krimstein
1-0: Jeremy Song
0-2: John Ferrara