Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
Northwestern’s Justin Jackson (21)
1. No. 20 Northwestern looks to win 10 games for the second time in three seasons when it takes on Kentucky in the Music City Bowl Dec. 29 in Nashville, Tenn. Northwestern has won seven consecutive games – its longest winning streak since the memorable Rose Bowl run in 1996 – and has a chance to cap off a successful campaign by posting back-to-back postseason victories for the first time in program history. Kentucky backed into a bowl game after dropping three of its last four contests, but has a chance to win eight games for the first time since 2007 and hand coach Mark Stoops some momentum on the recruiting trail.
2. Justin Jackson will be appearing in his final game after setting a slew of Northwestern rushing records during his stay in Evanston. Jackson became the first Big Ten player since Ron Dayne to rush for over 1,000 yards in four straight seasons after gaining 1,154 on the ground in 2017. Jackson ran for 144 yards and a touchdown in the 42-7 win against Illinois in the regular season finale to move past Montee Ball (5,140) for fourth place on the Big Ten’s all-time rushing list and hopes to feast on a Kentucky defense, which surrendered an average of 363.5 yards on the ground over its final two games.
3. Kentucky has a dynamic running back of its own in sophomore sensation Benny Snell Jr. Snell has built upon a historic freshman campaign, which saw him break the school record for most rushing yards by a first-year player (1,091) by registering 18 touchdowns in 2017, including 12 over his final five games of the regular season. Snell racked up 1,318 rushing yards to become the first running back in Kentucky history to notch back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and hopes to lead the Wildcats to their first postseason win since a 25-19 victory against East Carolina in the 2008 Liberty Bowl.
TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Northwestern -7
ABOUT KENTUCKY (7-5, 4-4 SEC): Snell, who was named to the All-SEC second team, rushed for 211 yards and two touchdowns in the disappointing 44-17 loss to Louisville on Nov. 25 to bring his career total to a school-record 31. “I’m going to keep giving it my all and I don’t really care about that,” Snell told reporters. “I like competition and I like it when another running back has good stats coming into the game against me.” Wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. was named to the freshman All-SEC Team as a kick returner after averaging 23.1 yards per return.
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (9-3, 7-2 Big Ten): Clayton Thorson threw for 140 yards and a score in the win over Illinois in the regular-season finale to equal the program record for most touchdown passes (44) held by Len Williams and Brett Basanez. Jackson posted his 26th career 100-yard rushing game in the victory against the Fighting Illini to move past the legendary LaDainian Tomlinson (5,263) into 11th place on the NCAA’s all-time rushing list. Garrett Dickerson earned all-Big Ten honorable mention honors after catching a career-high 37 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns in 2017.