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5 Reasons to Watch Northwestern vs. Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl

Usually, bowl games mean trips to Florida or California or warmer locales. The chance to get away from all remnants of home — preferably leaving the jackets behind.

Then there is the Pinstripe Bowl, one of the few bowls played in the north, away from the warmer climes. It has the bright lights of New York City going for it and the unique playing field at Yankee Stadium.

Unlike those games where the Big Ten visits the SEC or Pac-12 on their turf, this is the south(ish) team coming to Big Ten(ish) country. This is two teams playing in the Big Ten’s turf.

Or sort of. Pittsburgh is not quite the south the ACC used to represent. And Northwestern, at 6-6, has its work cut out for it against one of the best offenses in the country. But, then again, Yankee Stadium was always a hitter’s ballpark. And one of the end zones is in that famous right field.

Pittsburgh is not quite the south the ACC used to represent. And Northwestern, at 6-6, has its work cut out for it against one of the best offenses in the country. But, then again, Yankee Stadium was always a hitter’s ballpark. And one of the end zones is in that famous right field.

Last year’s thriller featuring Indiana’s did-they-make-it? field goal against Duke has left a bitter taste for the Big Ten. This game will not be much easier.

The ACC has the advantage with its tiering sending eight-win Pittsburgh to take on six-win Northwestern in this unique and chilly setting.

Here are five reasons to watch the New Era Pinstripe Bowl next Wednesday:

1. James Conner

The James Conner story is a really special one. The kind of story that makes college football a joy to watch.

Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last December after he sat out the year with a knee injury. He was already a stellar player. But nobody knew if he would be able to return.

He beat cancer to get back to the football field and starred yet again.

He rushed 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns to lead Pitt on the ground, a key part of the team’s stellar offense. He did not miss a beat, getting back into playing shape and making an impact. Against Big Ten champion Penn State, he rushed for 117 yards and 22 carries, helping propel Pitt to a win against the team’s rival.

He certainly treasures every carry and every chance he gets. This will be a strong cap to an amazing season, going against a tough Northwestern team with a strong running back of its own.

2. Football in a baseball stadium

There is still a bit of novelty to playing a football game in a baseball stadium.

In fact, there are several ties between Northwestern and the New York Yankees. This pairing seemed a very natural fit.

The late George Steinbrenner is a Northwestern alum (he is kind of a big deal to the Yankees). And Yankees manager Joe Girardi is a Northwestern legend himself. Girardi reportedly called Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald to extend the invitation to the bowl game.

Northwestern will be the home team and get the Yankees locker room. That is all pretty neat.

Northwestern is no stranger to playing in a baseball stadium. In 2006, they played the famous “one-way” game against Illinois at Wrigley Field. They have games planned for Wrigley Field in the future too.

3. Austin Carr continues to amaze

One of the best stories this season was the surprising emergence of Austin Carr as the best wide receiver in the Big Ten.

The former walk-on became Clayton Thorson’s favorite — and sometimes only — option at wide receiver throughout the year. Even facing double and triple coverages, Carr found a way to get open and be an outlet for an offense that has had its struggles.

There is some talk Carr could make some NFL scouting lists when that day comes.

For now, Carr stares down a Pitt passing attack that is in the bottom five in the nation for raw yards allowed per game. He averaged 99.7 yards per game receiving with 12 touchdowns.

Thorson will target Carr plenty and he could have another big game.

4. Video game numbers

For those looking to see a little bit of offense, there is always that potential when it comes to Pitt.

The Panthers averaged 42.4 points per game, including scoring 76 points in the season finale against Syracuse. Pitt will put up points in a hurry if Northwestern is not careful.

The Wildcats defense is fairly stout. They have put up solid numbers all year and step up when the time is right. Ifeadi Odenigbo can get to the quarterback and disrupt plays. Anthony Walker still gets early round NFL Draft talk despite a difficult season (hampered some by injury) and a deep but inexperienced secondary.

Northwestern tends to play its corners back to try to contain opposing teams and prevent big plays. The team relies on its sure tackling. But the Wildcats can give up long drives. And their offense can keep up when it is in rhythm.

That could mean there might be some fireworks at Yankee Stadium next week.

5. Northwestern bowl wins are rare — and special

Northwestern still has only two bowl wins in its history. These games still have a lot of meaning for the Wildcats and their fans. And they might actually get a 50-50 split for this game.

Pitt has sold out its alottment of tickets. Northwestern, though, has a very large alumni base in New York. This is not a big travel ask for the Wildcats. Not as much as geography would dictate.

And when Northwestern senses the opportunity for a win in a bowl game like this, the team and its fans get excited.

Northwestern, once it gets settled in its bowl appearance, can put in some stellar games historically. The Wildcats struggled last year against the Tennessee Volunteers in the Outback Bowl. That was a game that was a bit too much for an unbalanced Northwestern team with a freshman quarterback.

The moment was too big.

But typically in bowl games, Northwestern has played exciting games. Pat Fitzgerald usually gets his team ready for their bowl appearances.

The average margin in Northwestern’s bowl games under Fitzgerald (except last year) is 8.4 points per game, including two overtime games. That includes the classic shootout in the Outback Bowl against Auburn.

Northwestern saves its best offensive performances and most exciting moments for its bowl games.

Philip Rossman-Reich is a Northwestern alumnus and former contributor Lake The Posts. He also writes for Orlando Magic Daily and The Step Back.


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