Northern Illinois Huskies vs Boise State Broncos (-8.5, o/u 62.5)
The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium (Dec. 23 at 4:30 PM Eastern) features two teams that have been among the best college football programs in the country outside of the Power 5 conferences in recent years, the Northern Illinois Huskies (8-5, 6-2 MAC) and Boise State Broncos (8-4, 5-3 MW).
This is the first time since 2009 that Northern Illinois has failed to record at least 11 wins. The Broncos must win this match-up to avoid just their second five-loss season since 1998.
The Huskies are 8-5 overall and went 6-2 in the Mid-American Conference. In non-conference action, they beat Boise State’s league rival UNLV to begin the season (38-30) and lost tight games at Ohio State (20-13) and Boston College (17-14). The Huskies had a chance to win the MAC’s West Division after beating Toledo as a part of a six-game winning streak. However, they fell to East powers Ohio (26-21) and Bowling Green (34-14), both at home, during the final two weeks of the regular season.
Northern Illinois lost their starting quarterback, Drew Hare, to an Achilles injury during the win over Toledo. With the backups struggling, NIU has relied on the MAC’s leading rusher Joel Bouagnon for the majority of their offense. But the bulky junior was held in check for the majority of the final three games of the season. Following his 28-carry, 156-yard effort against Buffalo, opposing teams seem to realize the Huskies were a one-dimensional offense.
For the year, the Huskies averaged 33 points a game and allowed 25.5, but those numbers include half a season with Hare at the helm.
Boise State has won a bowl game in five of the last six seasons. This year, the Broncos are 8-4 and went 5-3 in the Mountain West Conference. They lost their chance to win a divisional title thanks to a 37-30 home setback against Air Force late in the year.
In non-conference action, the Broncos beat Washington (16-13) and Virginia (56-14) while falling at BYU (35-24).
The Broncos offense runs through RB Jeremy McNichols, one of the top backs in the NCAA. He has rushed for over 1,200 yards this year, tallies 5.6 yards per carry, and has 18 touchdowns on the ground. The sophomore from California only got stronger as the year went on, putting up over 150 yards per game during the last five games of the year.
The pairing of McNichols and wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck, who caught 20 passes for 281 yards in a loss against New Mexico and averaged more than 140 yards receiving over the last seven games of the campaign, led Boise State to 37.8 points per game.
The defense also played well this year, yielding just 21.3 PPG. They were particularly good against the run, finishing top-ten in the nation at 117.7 YPG.
Their balanced team, coupled with the Huskies’ loss of Hare, has the Broncos sitting as big 8.5-point favorites. Given that Boise State is particularly adept at stopping the run, Northern Illinois may struggle to get anything going on offense. Roll with the Broncos and lay the points.
Pick: Boise State (-8.5).
(Photo credit: Bsuorangecrush (Wikipedia) [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode].)