Talk about a game with multiple storylines - new bowl name, fired head coach at Texas A&M, two of the nation's longest bowl losing streaks, 63-year bowl drought for Northwestern, and last game in the conference for the Aggies.
The Texas Bowl becomes the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas as Meineke switches its sponsorship from Charlotte to Houston. The 12th annual game will pit the Big 12's Texas A&M against the Big Ten's Northwestern.
Texas A&M is 13-19 overall in bowl games and looking to snap a 5-bowl losing streak, tied for third longest in the nation. The Aggies' only victory in their last ten bowl games came here in 2001 when it was called the GalleryFurniture.com Bowl and Texas A&M beat TCU 28-9.
Northwestern owns the nation's longest bowl losing streak, both in number of games and longest period of time between victories. The Wildcats have 8 straight bowl losses since defeating California 20-14 in the 1948 season Rose Bowl, a drought that has lasted 63 years.
Texas A&M announced December 1 that Mike Sherman wouldn't be retained as head coach following a 6-6 season and a 25-25 overall record in 4 years at College Station. After the Aggies went 9-4 in 2010, there were high expectations for 2011 as they began the season ranked 8th by the sportswriters and 9th by the coaches. CollegeFootballPoll.com's Congrove Computer Rankings projected the Aggies as an 11-1 team overall and 8-1 in the conference, but after outperforming the computer's forecast in 2009 and 2010, the team greatly underachieved this year as it blew numerous double-digit halftime leads.
Tim DeRuyter, Sherman's defensive coordinator, is interim head coach for Texas A&M in the bowl game after which he will leave to begin his head coaching career with Fresno State. Texas A&M will head into the 2012 season with a new head coach in Kevin Sumlin who led Houston to a 12-0 record before falling to Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship game.
This will be Texas A&M's last game as a member of the Big 12 as it heads to the SEC next season.
Heather Houston is the executive director for the bowl game and she declared in the bowl's press release that "This is a tremendous matchup for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Texas A&M has a huge and extremely loyal alumni base in the Houston area and we’re excited to host them in their final game as members of the Big 12. Northwestern has a dynamic, exciting offense and one of the brightest young coaches in the country. We look forward to hosting both teams and their dedicated fans throughout bowl week."
I wonder how many times a conversation with her has begun with "Houston, we have a problem."
The press release notes that Texas A&M features one of the nation’s most high-powered offenses and a high-pressure defense. Senior quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who played wide receiver his first two-plus seasons in College Station, is the only player in NCAA history to record more than 4,000 yards passing and 1,500 yards receiving, as well as the only player to record a 400-yard passing game and a 200-yard receiving game.
Tannehill has a number of options to throw to, led by junior receiver Ryan Swope, who set school single-season records for receptions and receiving yards this year.
The Aggies are second nationally with 43 sacks and are 15th in the country against the run. Those are surprising numbers considering they rank 76th in scoring defense, 65th in total defense, 100th in turnover margin and 113th in pass defense.
Northwestern is bowl eligible for the school-record fifth consecutive season under head coach Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats are led on the field by senior quarterback Dan Persa, who is NU’s career leader in pass efficiency and is fifth in school history with 34 career touchdown passes. Persa’s favorite target is senior wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, who has posted two of the top five receiving seasons in school history.
Had Persa spent the entire season healthy, it would likely would have been a much better year for the Wildcats. Even though he missed the first three games altogether, Northwestern possessed the second-best offense in the Big Ten and the conference’s best passing attack. Senior defensive lineman Vince Brown ranks fourth in school history with 19 career sacks, including 3.0 this season, and freshman linebacker Ibraheim Campbell leads the team in tackles with 81 stops.
Northwestern has also had their defensive woes. The Wildcats rank 65th in scoring defense, 81st in total defense and 90th in run defense.
The bowl has been affiliated with the Big 12 since its inception in 2006. This year marks the second year in which the bowl has been affiliated with the Big Ten. In 2010, Illinois beat Baylor 38-14 on Dec. 29 at Reliant Stadium behind 184 rushing yards from running back Mikel Leshoure, who was named the bowl’s Most Valuable Player. The crowd of 68,211 was the second-largest in the bowl’s history.
The 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas will kick off Saturday, December 31 at Noon EST and will be televised nationally on ESPN.
The Congrove Computer Rankings project Texas A&M as a 13.62-point pick, which is its 3rd-widest forecasted margin for the 35 bowl games this season.