It’ll be a battle of the Wildcats in the 2017 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl as Kentucky plays no. 21 Northwestern. Kickoff is set for 4:30 EST on Friday, December 29 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Fans of both Wildcats can watch the game on ESPN.

Northwestern is listed as a 7-point favorite with an over/under of 51 points. Click here for a full list of bowl game betting odds and links to game previews.

Music City Bowl Vegas Betting Preview: Kentucky vs Northwestern

Kentucky’s Wildcats are coming off an impressive 7-5 campaign in the always-difficult SEC. Kentucky did most of their damage during the early part of the season, as the Cats dropped three of their last four games to close the season. 

Nevertheless, Mark Stoops has started to bring some consistency to Kentucky with their second straight 7-win season and second straight bowl game. A win in a bowl game and an 8-win season would be two more milestones Kentucky can reach with a win over Northwestern.

On the other side, Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats were one of the more underrated teams in the Big Ten this year. Northwestern won their final seven games of the season to finish the year 9-3. These Wildcats are now going to their third straight bowl game and their 8th in the last 10 years. 

With a win in the Music City Bowl, Northwestern will have their second 10-win season in the past two years. A win would also ensure that the Wildcats finish the season ranked in the top-25 for just the third time in Fitzgerald’s tenure.

2017 Music City Bowl Free Pick & Odds Predictions: Northwestern -7

A 7-point spread in this game makes me a little nervous. But I’m still going to lean toward Northwestern to cover. Pat Fitzgerald’s team won’t want to spoil their winning streak with a loss in a bowl game. Even with Kentucky having a little bit of a home-field advantage, Northwestern will come ready to play and take care of business.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Northwestern’s season is that they’ve won all nine of their games by at least seven points. They have three overtime wins, so they’ve been in close games, but even their overtime games were won by at least a touchdown. That gives me a lot of confidence that Northwestern can win this game by a comfortable margin and cover the spread.

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Northwestern’s biggest strength all season has been their defense. The Wildcats are allowing less than 20 points per game on the season. In fact, they allowed a total of 20 points during their final three games, albeit against weak competition outside of a 6-6 Purdue team. 

I don’t see the Kentucky defense as being dynamic enough to create big plays against Northwestern. Kentucky will be functional offensively because they can run the ball. But quarterback Stephen Johnson threw just one touchdown pass in his final six games. He’ll need to be much better than he was late in the season if Kentucky is going to have consistent success moving the ball against Northwestern.

Kentucky’s defense also struggled the second half of the season. To be fair, they played some quality offensive teams like Georgia and Louisville late in the year. But even during a win over a lackluster Tennessee team, the Wildcats gave up 26 points and over 400 yards of offense. Based on that, I’m not sure how I like how they match up against the Northwestern offense. 

The Wildcats have a strong running game behind Justin Jackson while quarterback Clayton Thorson did a great job of cutting back on his turnovers late in the season. Thorson and Northwestern also tend to be at their best in the red zone. The Wildcats scored a touchdown in every overtime period they played this year, which tells me they’re good in the red zone and don’t fold under pressure.

While Kentucky definitely made nice strides this season, they’re still not quite at the same level as Northwestern. Fitzgerald’s Wildcats have a stronger defense and a more balanced offense than Kentucky. That makes me believe Northwestern can cover a 7-point spread in the Music City Bowl.