Northwestern-Utah Betting Guide: Two Overachievers Meet in 2018 Holiday Bowl

Northwestern-Utah Betting Guide: Two Overachievers Meet in 2018 Holiday Bowl article feature image
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2018 Holiday Bowl Betting Odds: Northwestern-Utah

  • Odds: Utah -7
  • Over/Under: 46
  • Date: Monday, Dec. 31
  • Location: San Diego, Calif.
  • Time: 7 p.m. ET
  • TV: Fox Sports 1

>> All odds as of Sunday night. Download The Action Network App to get real-time bowl odds and win probabilities on your bets


Two of the nation’s most consistent overachievers will meet in the 2018 Holiday Bowl.

Utah and Northwestern both made their conference championship game and fell short as an underdog, though neither was expected to be there.

The Utes are laying a touchdown behind coach Kyle Whittingham, who is excellent in bowl games. But Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has been highly successful as an underdog.

What will give on Monday night?

Market Movement for Utah-Northwestern

By Danny Donahue

Utah has been one of just a handful of favorites not receiving a majority backing. Only 35% of bettors are behind the Utes, who still sit at their opening number of -7.

And despite the under attracting 61% of money, this total has actually inched up from 45 to 46.

Trends to Know for Utah-Northwestern

By John Ewing

As Danny mentioned, few bettors believe in the Utes, but maybe they should. Since 2005, teams receiving fewer than 40% of spread tickets have gone 139-98-3 (59%) ATS in bowl games.

By Evan Abrams

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has always had success against non-conference opponents. Since 2005, he is 33-22-1 ATS (60%) when facing opponents outside the Pac-12, and that includes an 8-3 ATS mark in December or later, covering the spread by 10.7 PPG.

By Collin Wilson

Utah is 11-1 straight up under Kyle Whittingham in bowls, going 9-3 against the spread since 2004.

By Steve Petrella

Fitzgerald is 46-33-1 ATS as an underdog in his career at Northwestern.

Red Zone Edge

By Stuckey

Utah’s defense is No. 1 in the nation in red zone scoring (63.9%). Northwestern’s offense finished with a not-so-nice 83.7% red zone scoring percentage, which ranks 69th nationally.

Special Teams Mismatch

By Steve Petrella

You could write this about Utah in just about every game (we have!), but it applies again. The Utes will have a big special teams edge over Northwestern.

Utah has arguably the nation’s best punter and one of the best kickers, and ranks seventh in special teams S&P+. Northwestern is 122nd.

Northwestern struggled at kicker all season, rotating two who combined to go 7 of 12. The Wildcats also really struggled on kickoffs, generating just seven touchdowns in 54 tries.

Northwestern Had Some Awful Metrics …

By Steve Petrella

There were 11 teams this bowl season that had a negative yards per play differential, meaning they were outgained by their opposition consistently. Northwestern had the worst at -0.86 — that ranked just ahead of Kansas and Liberty.

… But Beware of Blindly Fading the Cats

By Steve Petrella

I’ve written about this before, but Northwestern tends to outperform its underlying metrics. You can’t look at a tale of the tape and assume the Cats will get run out of the building, because they have a pretty good recipe for keeping games close as an underdog.

  • Never commit penalties
  • Get red zone stops
  • Convert third downs

The typical things you look for when creating a power ratings, Northwestern’s not great at. But the little things allow it to hang tough as a double-digit underdog.

Northwestern has had a negative Second Order Win Total — how many games a team should win based on its advanced statistical profile — in each of the past five seasons. At some point, you can’t call it good luck.

Bet to Watch

By Collin Wilson

Northwestern became one of the tougher teams to handicap throughout the season, being on the winning side against Wisconsin and Michigan State but losing to Duke and Akron.

Pat Fitzgerald relied on a defense that was great in the red zone, committed the fewest penalties in FBS and ranked 11th against the run.

Utah made its own name in the Pac-12 this season, winning the South division with victories over Stanford, USC and Oregon.

There has been no further information on the health of Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley after he broke his collarbone on Nov. 3, although the junior was cleared to throw earlier this month.

While backup Jason Shelley was serviceable, Huntley’s skill set — 64.1 completion percentage for 1,788 yards and 12 touchdowns — and escapability helped Utah greatly.

The Action Network power ratings make this game Utah -8.5 and news of a Huntley return would add to that number.

Northwestern will be without a few defensive starters in the front seven, giving a further advantage to the Utes. The Wildcats will have a tough time moving the ball as the 113th most efficient offense in the nation with a yards-per-play mark that ranks in the bottom 10 of FBS.

Utah is top 10 in opponent yards per play and first in the country in opponent red zone scoring percentage.

Swallow the points with Utah and look for Whittingham to add to his impressive bowl resume.

Collin’s Pick: Utah -7

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