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Northwestern vs. Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl: Preview, Picks, Time, TV, How to Watch

Both teams have enjoyed using a lot of quarterbacks with very little success, but only one of these teams has lost to Rutgers. Does that mean anything? See for yourself!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Holiday Bowl - Northwestern v Utah
It’s quite possible that Cam Rising was on the Utah football team for this game, but I’m not going to be bothered to look it up. (Edit: It bothered me, so I did. He was a freshman at Texas before transferring to Utah after this game.)
Photo by Tom Walko/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Millennial homeowners that we are in the MNW household, we pay $10/month for one of those plumbing and HVAC inspection services that get us a couple free check-ups every year, plus front-of-the-line status when we need any work done. It’s certainly a convenience, albeit one that means the pushier salesmen will try to up-sell us on this, that, and the other thing when the inspection rolls around. Our furnace is a year old; you cannot possibly sell me on duct cleaning again, buddy.

Wednesday’s visit was particularly excruciating, though.

First, after we’d been given a window of “between 7am and 4pm,” the guy parked in front of our house at 4:05pm, then stayed in his car and ate what appeared to be an entire sandwich and scrolled his phone before getting out. It was just me and MNWildkit, who had just gotten shots, so my annoyance level was off the charts.

This guy, then—a larger man, which, whatever, but this was unhealthy to the point of he was groaning getting up our basement stairs—proceeded to take over an hour and a half in the basement, at one point while the furnace was unplugged using that outlet to plug in his own cellphone “because his car charger didn’t work” and, I’m rather confident, taking a personal call. That is, unless “what Sandra’s doing for Christmas” involves fixing my one-year-old furnace.

On the way out—finally, at 5:45pm—this guy mentions sediment isn’t flowing out of our water heater and would I like to have a plumber out on Friday to look at it?

Well, turns out this furnace guy had also flagged a couple pipes as potentially leaky—which he didn’t tell me—and wanted the plumber to look at that, too! So at 7:05am today, because apparently those are the only two windows for this company, we got a knock on our door as the kid was crying and my wife was trying to get out the door to work. Plumber’s here!

And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s a leak. Oh, and there are scorch marks on our hot water heater, meaning he should red-tag the entire thing, water heater included—meaning no hot water unless we replaced it today—but could just fix the gas leak for just shy of a grand.

Boy, is that a fun call to make to your already-pissed wife at work at 7:57am.

Anyhow, I’m pretty sure “multi-thousand-dollar expense right before Christmas” and “not being prepared to deal with it” and “screaming infant” and “incompetent HVAC guy” is somehow a metaphor for Derrick Gragg’s handling of the Northwestern football program, but I’ll let you connect those dots.

This is a Las Vegas Bowl preview.

The Facts, Ma’am

Northwestern Wildcats (7-5, 5-4 B1G) vs. Utah Utes (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12)

Las Vegas Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 23 | 6:30pm | Utah -6.5 | O/U 41.5
Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, NV

Northwestern-Utah Comparisons

Metrics Northwestern Utah
Metrics Northwestern Utah
FEI Total 55 26
FEI Off 76 53
FEI Def 44 12
SP+ Total 71 35
SP+ Off 104 60
SP+ Def 30 27
F+ Total 63 30
F+ Off 93 54
F+ Def 35 18

You don’t read this and I already wasted about 400 words on a damn water heater, so we’ll do this bullet-point style.

About Utah:

The Schedule

  • Started the year ranked, was probably very good.
  • Turns out wins over Florida, Baylor, and FCS Weber State weren’t as impressive as billed—still good, though!
  • Lost only to ranked teams: Oregon State, Oregon, Washington, Arizona.

The Players

  • Utah’s QB situation is...tenuous. Quarterback Cam Rising’s knee injury was a lot worse than thought; he gets a 7th season in 2024. Pig farmer* Bryson Barnes started but got benched after erratic play, but his replacement Nate Johnson got benched after the Oregon State loss and is now transferring to Vanderbilt and throwing some shade at Utah.
  • Do we consider 12,000 pigs to be farming or commercial agriculture?
  • Barnes will start the bowl game but is potentially turnover-prone (12:9, 58.5%).
  • Iowa has nearly 4,000 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), defined as over 2,500 swine—a small-to-medium family farmer tends to top out closer to 500.
  • RB Ja’Quinden Jackson will plow forward into the NU defensive line over and over, though that’s been to mixed results most of the year, only dominating against also-rans like Arizona State, Baylor, and USC.
  • It’s not “farming”, is all I’m saying.
  • Ball-hawking safeties like Cole Bishop and Sione Vaki will make Bryant pay for any profligacy with the ball, and linebackers Lander Barton and Karene Reid are equally adept coming downhill and dropping into coverage.
  • The “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico owes in large part to Iowa—29% of the Gulf’s nutrient run-off comes from Iowa alone. Very notably, 10 states touch the Mississippi River. I am just a humble history professor, but! something seems off.
  • There’s a fair chance DE Jonah Elliss (12 sacks) may kill poor Ben Bryant at QB.

About Northwestern

The Schedule

  • Did not start the year ranked.
  • Please don’t ask who they lost to!
  • Won four of their last five.
  • Did not score above 14 in any of their five losses.
  • Famously came back from 21 down in the fourth quarter to beat Minnesota.
  • That last one isn’t relevant to this game, but PJ Fleck probably forgot to tell the “Bad Moms” of the Gophers about it, so I hope this news finds them.

The Players

  • Northwestern’s QB situation is Ben Bryant. If it’s not, I will turn off the game and drink heavily.*
  • Opt-outs for the ‘Cats: OG Josh Priebe. That won’t be relevant against Utah’s front seven.
  • I’ll be drinking heavily anyway, but now the TV will be off.
  • We’ll see if Northwestern’s offensive line can set the edge and get into space—I don’t like them running up the middle on Utah, but Anthony Tyus III ate some yards later in the season and Cam Porter has been a bellcow.
  • We’re doing a German-themed Christmas, so it’ll be Gluhwein (along with the Warpigs my brother-in-law has on tap).
  • No-fly zone hasn’t been as impenetrable, but DBs Rod Heard II and Garnett Hollis, Jr., have their moments.
  • I wanted a Very Czech Christmas, but then I made a “pork knuckle” “moose knuckle” joke and I think it kind of ruined it for everyone.
  • Improved linebacker play meant a lot for the ‘Cats this year: Bryce Gallagher started to figure things out, while Xander Mueller got to the QB five times this year and picked off three passes, a pair of stats I genuinely cannot believe.
  • Water heater’s all installed now, by the way.

The Special Teams

  • Northwestern has a kicker? (Jack Olsen was 14/17 and 4/6 from 40+. I cannot believe it either.) Utah has a damn good one in Cole Becker, too (15/18, 3/4 from 40+), but it’s just astonishing that I don’t cringe every time the ‘Cats kick now.
  • This just gets a heading because I forgot about it above.
  • The school that gave you Mitch Wishnowsky and Tom Hackett has done it again, with Jack Bouwmeester as one of the best punters in the country (46.04 ypp, just 4 TB on 48 punts). Northwestern also has a punter. He averages nearly 8 yards less per punt than Bouwmeester.
  • We in the business call that “bad”, but I have gotten multiple emails from the parents of punters and kickers in the five years I’ve spent running this place, so your sons are all doing great.
  • I know, it’s a miracle I’ve been running this dump for that long.

So what’s going to happen?

The predictable idea here is pretty easy: Utah should be able to lean on Northwestern, dominate the line of scrimmage, and move the ball just enough to win something easy like 24-7.

But, of any Pac-12 team they could’ve drawn, Northwestern got the B1Gliest and Westliest. Narratives abound here for the ‘Cats, from having ended Kyle Whittingham’s bowl dominance back in the 2018 Holiday Bowl—a deeply, deeply stupid game in which Northwestern scored 28 third-quarter points on approximately nine Utah turnovers—to their seemingly-improbable 7-5 finish.

The latter, I believe, gives Northwestern—and you’ll want to be sitting down for this Las Vegas Bowl reference—what some might call “house money”. This is surely an original point and I bet I’m the first person to make it, so thank your lucky stars that you pay zero dollars and zero cents to read off tackle empire dot blogspot dot angelfire dot com.

A small part of me is very excited about this bowl game and thinks Northwestern can win. But 70 percent of me is water, and the other part—the real part—the part that has feelings and emotions and thoughts and makes decisions and, if I can be crass, makes babies, that part thinks all of these chang—Utah, 24-14.


Please pick the winner of the 2023 Las Vegas Bowl.

  • 33%
    Utah by more than 6.5
    (29 votes)
  • 12%
    Utah by less than 6.5
    (11 votes)
  • 8%
    Utah by exactly 6.5?
    (7 votes)
  • 45%
    ‘Cats win!
    (40 votes)
87 votes total Vote Now


Over or under 41.5 total points?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    (16 votes)
  • 65%
    (48 votes)
  • 12%
    Exactly 41.5 points AND a push: Utah wins, 24-17.5
    (9 votes)
73 votes total Vote Now

1500 words on the Las Vegas Bowl and also a water heater. No wonder I don’t get anything done in my professional life. Enjoy.