SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl: Northwestern vs. Utah

By Lee Wakefield

Bowl season really does have a wide spectrum of venues and a range of feels, doesn’t it? It truly is a magical part of the fabric that makes up the college football postseason. During The Touchdown’s coverage of bowl season, which you can the entirety of here, I’ve written about the kick-off in Myrtle Beach, which took place at the home of Coastal Carolina. A tidy, 21,000-capacity venue. Perfectly adequate for its Chanticleers, and home to another piece of college football heritage, its teal-coloured tuft.

But as we draft deeper into bowl season, the venues get larger. There are more household names on the field and more glitz and glamour surrounding each event, none more so than in Las Vegas, the self-styles entertainment capital of the world.

Today we preview the Las Vegas Bowl, at the Deathstar. Or the Giant Roomba, depending on who you talk to… 

Where and When

SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl

Location: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada

Date: 23rd December 2023

Time: 7:30 pm (ET)

Story so far…

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The Northwestern Wildcats have made it to bowl season with a 7-5 overall record in David Braun’s first season as Head Coach, after taking over from disgraced former Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald in the wake of the hazing scandal that rocked the programme.

On the face of it, 7-5 might not seem particularly impressive. However, given the context of this season coming off the back of the scandal that brought down the winningest coach in programme history, it doesn’t seem so bad. Add in that they did this off the back of the Big Ten media poll which placed them seventh (out of seven) in the Big Ten West, it looks a lot better. Northwestern had a 5-4 conference record which placed them second in the Big Ten West behind Iowa. The Wildcats come into this one having won four of their last five too, after an uneven start.

As for the Utes, an 8-4 record, with a 5-4 conference record might seem a little underwhelming considering they were the defending conference champions and went to the Rose Bowl in 2022.

However, the final iteration of the Pac-12 was a particularly strong one. The four teams with better records above them in the division-less conference were all ranked in the top 19 of the final CFB rankings.

Utah played seven ranked opponents (at the time they played) throughout their 12 regular season games, winning three. So whilst this wasn’t a vintage year for Utah, they put up a good fight, as they always do under Kyle Whittingham.

The Quarterbacks…

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Ben Bryant might have missed four games in the middle of the season but there’s no way the sixth-year Senior will be missing the Last Vegas bowl for the Wildcats. This will be his final game in college football, after stops off in Cincinnati and Eastern Michigan and he will be hoping to go out with a bang.

Never an NFL-level prospect but when he gets in rhythm, Bryant can get hot, which has led to a couple of notable wins this year. Firstly against his former Head Coach, Luke Fickell (formerly of Cincinnati, now Wisconsin), where Northwestern beat the Badgers 24-10 in Madison to snap a 14-game road losing streak. Or the four-touchdown, overtime win against Minnesota back in September. On both occasions Bryant threw zero interceptions, something he is prone to and will want to avoid against Utah.

Utah has a rare situation at QB for the Las Vegas Bowl, in that starter Bryson Barnes has opted to enter the transfer portal, but unlike most players who are hoping for a transfer, Barnes will play on Saturday.

Barnes, who has played the majority of games in place of injured starter Cam Rising, has said that he doesn’t want to leave them hanging. Rising is back next season, having already announced he will play for the Utes once again.

This leaves Barnes, a former walk-on, with the opportunity to leave with a perfect goodbye in Sin City

Prospects to watch…

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Prospects to Watch


Cam Johnson, Wide Receiver – Much travelled and on his third team, much like his quarterback, Johnson had a nice year in 2023. Johnson set career-highs in receiving yards (684), average per reception (13.7) and touchdowns (5). None of which are eye-popping numbers but as a former four-star recruit, there’s talent there, and an ascending one at that.

Bryce Gallagher, Linebacker – A tackling machine who has racked up exactly 300 tackles in the past three seasons. Gallagher had a career-high 110 this past season as a lynchpin in the middle of the Wildcat’s defense. Does he make enough splash plays to be really valuable? Probably not, but he will likely be a Special Teams coach’s dream at the next level.


Cole Bishop, Safety – A solid safety prospect who has fluid movement skills in all directions, good enough ball skills and value as a blitzer. Bishop can miss the odd tackle and could be accused of trying to lay the wood, rather than just making the tackle, at times. However, he will be drafted and will be a solid, if unspectacular piece of an NFL roster. 

Sataoa Laumea, Offensive Tackle – The Senior Bowl beckons for Laumea and this will provide him with a potential launch point for his prospects of being drafted earlier on day 3, rather than later. Laumea is experienced, having started 44 games at Utah and has the positional versatility (guard/tackle) that late-round linemen need in order to have a chance of hearing their names called. He got the Jimy Nagy seal of approval too. 



I don’t see this being a particularly close one. Utah has extremely well-coached under Whittingham. Whilst I am not saying that Northwestern aren’t, the Utes are just such a well-oiled machine who play hard and are more than the sum of their parts the vast majority of the time.

Northwestern 21 – Utah 37

Lee Wakefield