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2011 Texas Bowl Preview

Texas A&M Aggies vs Northwestern Wildcats

The game formerly known as the Texas Bowl – and with the sponsor that used to be attached to a bowl game played in Charlotte, North Carolina – is a game which shapes up perfectly for the home state team against a Big Ten opponent.

Then again, that’s what most college football experts said last year.

The Meineke Car Care Bowl used to be played inside the home of the Carolina Panthers. Now, the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas comes to Reliant Stadium in Houston. What was the Texas Bowl last year now has a more extended name, but the pre-kickoff dynamics of the 2011 game are strikingly similar to the 2010 tilt.

Let’s go back a year in time. In the 2010 Texas Bowl, Baylor was making a short trip from its Waco, Texas, campus to Houston to face a 6-6 Illinois team that looked ripe for a knockout. With a high-powered offense led by Robert Griffin III (this year’s Heisman Trophy favorite), Baylor seemed to be in position to roll over a .500 squad from the Big Ten. Baylor possessed more speed on the edges and a vastly superior quarterback, and its defense did not figure to be exploited on a massive scale. Illinois struggled to throw the ball late in the 2010 season, giving Baylor’s limited defense the idea that it would not have to stand on its head to deliver a victory.

Those Illinois-Baylor dynamics exist in this 2011 clash in the Lone Star State. Northwestern is taking Illinois’s place, while Texas A&M – another school located not too far from Houston – is naturally filling the role played last year by Baylor.

Northwestern, due to repeated injuries to star quarterback Dan Persa, has failed to find a groove on offense this season. The Wildcats showed an ability to play well for a full quarter at a time, but were rarely able to sustain excellence for longer periods. Northwestern led Michigan by 10 points at halftime but crumbled in the second half. The Cats led Illinois 28-10 late in the third quarter of their rivalry game against the Illini, only to drop a 38-35 decision. Northwestern just doesn’t handle second-half leads with care. For a Texas A&M team that has lost five of its six games after leading at halftime, it would seem that NU is the perfect opponent in a bowl game. A&M has not yet named a replacement for fired coach Mike Sherman, but given Northwestern’s inability to perform well after halftime, the Aggies are still in very good shape.

Now, however, one must remember what happened in that Illinois-Baylor Texas Bowl last year. Illinois raced past a Baylor team that was stuck in quicksand. The Illini showed more energy and instinctiveness than the Bears, who never established rhythm after the month-long layoff following the end of the regular season. For all the ways in which A&M – a bad second-half team – does not figure to be threatened by another poor second-half squad from Northwestern, it could very well be that the Wildcats will overturn conventional wisdom and win their first bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl. If so, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald will register one of his most important achievements.

Conventional wisdom or an unexpected show of resilience from a Big Ten team that’s being counted out? Will Northwestern-A&M follow the same path taken by Illinois-Baylor? Texas A&M’s final football game before its move to the Southeastern Conference will answer some attention-grabbing questions.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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