Will Northwestern Keep Up With Utah in 2018 Holiday Bowl Betting?

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D.S. Williamson

December 31st, 2018

The Big Ten runner-up battles the Pac 12 runner up in the 2018 Holiday Bowl betting matchup on Monday, December 31.

The #22 Northwestern Wildcats failed to beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, but get a nice consolation traveling to beautiful San Diego for a matchup with the Utah Utes. Northwestern hopes to show that more than luck went into winning the Big Ten West Division. After a strong regular season, they can do that by beating a higher ranked opponent in their bowl game.

Utah dominated the Pac 12 South Division. But, they couldn’t close the deal on preseason conference favorite Washington in the championship, falling 3-10 as a 4.5 dog. Utah’s not the type of college program to dwell on past failures. The Utes will show up to SDCCU Stadium ready to prove that they are one of the top-20 college football programs in the nation.

A classic Big Ten versus Pac 12 matchup takes place in 2018 Holiday Bowl betting. Which team will come out on top?

2018 HOLIDAY BOWL BETTING #22 Northwestern Wildcats vs #17 Utah Utes Monday, December 31st – SDCCU Stadium– 7:00pm ET Odds: Utah -7 (46)

Northwestern Won’t Change a Strategy that’s Worked

Before the season started, most had Northwestern finishing third in the Big Ten West Division. The Wildcats were supposed to end the season behind Wisconsin and Iowa. Northwestern didn’t read the press, though.

Instead, they beat both Wisconsin and Iowa decisively. More impressively, they dominated Michigan State on the road and held their own against Notre Dame. Northwestern was able to provide big wins and play competitively no matter whom they met on the field because of an underrated quarterback and disciplined defense.

The Wildcats play 'bend don’t break' to perfection, allowing opponents to march into the red zone. Once in scoring position, Northwestern locks down. By forcing field goals, they give quarterback Clayton Thorson a chance. More often than not, he delivered this season.

We can expect the same strategy against Utah on Monday as the Wildcats face a daunting 2018 Holiday Bowl betting line. The Wildcats will rely on their defenders to force field goals and hope Thorson can eat up clock and get touchdowns on the other end.

Utah Out to Show Why they Won the Pac 12 South

Like Northwestern, nobody expected Utah to win their division. The Utes were supposed to finish behind preseason Top 10 ranked USC and either Arizona or Arizona State in the Pac 12 South.

Utah showed their quality right away. In Week 1, they dominated Weber State 41-10, covering as a -30 favorite. Then in Week 2, they beat Northern Illinois 17-6 on the road. Although the Utes failed in two straight against the Washington schools, they recovered quickly to run off 4 straight wins at Stanford, against Arizona and USC and at UCLA. Utah also beat Oregon, Colorado, and BYU before the Pac 12 Championship loss to Washington.

While Northwestern will bring a standard game plan into the Holiday Bowl, Utah’s strategy will be to shut down Thorson and the Wildcats offense. The Utes held 6 opponents to 10 points or less this season. If they do that to the Big Ten runner up on Monday, they’ll show why they won the Pac 12 South.

2018 Holiday Bowl Betting Trends

The line opened at Utah -7.5. Even though it’s gone down half a point, most feel Northwestern’s worth backing. The trends add some credence to that line of  thinking.

Northwestern is 22-5-1 ATS in their last 28 after allowing more than 280 yards in their previous, 4-1 ATS in their last 5 following an SU loss, and 4-1-1 ATS versus a team with a winning record. But, positive trends also give the Utes a chance. Utah is 6-1 ATS in their last 7 versus the Big Ten, 5-1 ATS in their last 6 following an SU loss, and 4-1 ATS in their last 5 bowl games.

With both showing positive trends, who covers comes down to strategy. Utah shut down some fantastic Pac 12 scoring teams this season while the main problem for the Wildcats will be capitalizing on offensive opportunities. The Utes will frustrate Thorson into making at least one mistake. That mistake will cost the Wildcats the game and cover. Yes, I think this game will be tight, but Utah is the team worth backing. I prefer defenses that don't bend at all.

2018 Holiday Bowl Betting Free Pick: Utah -7