Wednesday 28th December 2016
Bronx, New York, Ny.
Pittsburgh vs Northwestern
The iconic home of the Yankees is once again the setting for the annual Pinstripe Bowl, that sees two schools who have both make the journey to the Bronx on the back of pleasing seasons. It has been yet another winning season under head coach Pat Narduzzi that was headlined by the Panther’s outstanding, if not upsetting of at the time #3 Clemson in front of 81,000 Tigers fans on the road in Death Valley. The 8-4 Panthers are in good form, closing out the season with three straight victories, scoring an astounding 175 points in the process, including a scoreboard busting 76-71 victory over Syracuse to close out the year.
Armed with a more modest 6-6 regular season record, head coach Pat Fitzgerald continues to do more with less each season, his team bouncing back from a slow start to the year to gain respectability and once again bowl eligibility. A well coached and disciplined team, the Wildcats very nearly upset Ohio State on the road before falling late to a 24-21 defeat, while playing an in-form Wisconsin close. Northwestern too arrive here on the back of a dominating 42-21 home defeat over Illinois. In fact they match up well here, the Wildcat’s rank #32 nationally against the run which they will hope can hold the #28 rushing offense of Pitt.
You can’t think of Pittsburgh without immediately envisioning outstanding #24 RB James Conner. The junior made an emotional return to the game this season, his inspirational fight and desire to defeat Hodgkins Lymphoma in time to be fit for week one as uplifting a story as you will come across this year. He did indeed pick up where he left off after a year away from the game, rushing in his trademark physical, quick and powerful style to 53 yards and a touchdown against Villanova to spark emotional scenes at Heinz Field. Conner went on to rush for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns, just a year departed from being diagnosed from cancer. Connor’s ability, playing style and limitless determination will be a gift to the team who drafts him in the spring – watch out on Sundays.
Clearing the way for this dangerous rushing attack are #69 LT Adam Bisnowaty, whose excellent size formed a strong duo on the left side alongside talented #53 LG Dorian Johnson, two highly experienced, consistent performers. Also keep an eye on #5 DE/OLB Ejuan Price who has made a habit of getting to the quarterback this season. #4 QB Nate Peterman is a ‘sleeper’ to pay close attention to. The Tennessee graduate transfer is a perfect fit for the pro-style system used in Pittsburgh and Peterman is a comfortable performer at sitting back in the pocket under center with the mobility and footwork to intrigue behind his line. His NFL-like experience will intrigue teams come the spring and while he can at times let his decision making fluctuate, he is one of those talents that you should draft in the mid-late rounds and hope to develop his abilities into something.
The Wildcats, in #80 WR Austin Carr possess the finest receiver in the Big-Ten, having posted a conference best 84 receptions for 1,196 yards and 12 touchdowns. Carr’s telepathic relationship with QB Clayton Thorston has caught my eye, the receiver demonstrating an outstanding awareness and instinct for when his quarterback needs him, breaking off from his routes to sit down for his signal caller and exploiting soft areas of coverage with the ultra-reliable soft hands to match. Carr has been one of the breakout stars of the 2016/17 season for me. At linebacker, #18 Anthony Walker is the star at a school where Pat Fitzgerald brought greatness to the position. An incredibly intelligent, instinctive performer, Walker plays with great awareness and no less vision to always be in the right place at the right time, standing out consistently in making the stop. While he does not possess the athleticism and this range to cover large swathes of the field, he more than makes up with his instinctiveness to ensure he is always in the right place at the right time.
We Say: Pittsburgh. In what will be one of the more fascinating games this bowl season, this game will be decided by how effectively the much vaunted and experienced Panthers offensive line can edge out a strong Northwestern defence. While it will be very close, in James Conner Pitt possess a game changer on an offense that will score enough points to stay just ahead of the Wildcats to see them through.
James Conner: Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
Austin Carr: Saturday Tradition.com