Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
Saturday, December 23, 1:30 pm PT - ESPN
CRIS Opener: Boise State -8 O/U 56
CRIS Current: Boise State -8.5 O/U 56
Recommendation: Boise State
Two of the best non-Power Five Conference teams of the last decade will battle it out on Tuesday as Northern Illinois faces Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. NIU and BSU rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in wins since 2010. Only Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State have more victories within that span. The Huskies fell short of clinching the MAC title with a 34-14 loss to Bowling Green. The Falcons outgained the Huskies 501-259. Despite the defeat, Northern clinched its sixth straight MAC West Division crown and played in some tight road contests against then No. 1 Ohio State and Boston College. Head coach Rod Carey led the school to an 8-4 record and will be coaching his third straight bowl game, losing the previous two. Boise State was looking to improve off of its Fiesta Bowl win in 2014 but had a bit of a drop off this season. After opening the campaign with a 5-1 record, the Broncos lost three of their last five games and didn't reach the Mountain West Championship. They did however clinch their 18th straight winning season, which is the second longest streak in the nation behind Virginia Tech's 21.
Both clubs dealt with injury issues at the quarterback position. NIU opened the year with Drew Hare under center who started the first nine games before suffering a season-ending torn Achilles during the Toledo victory. Trush frosh Ryan Graham took over and played well before suffering a leg injury right before the MAC title game. Another freshman, Tommy Fiedler, stepped in and struggled in a losing effort. Carey said that Graham will be healthy enough to start and play. For Boise State, freshman Brett Rypien has been the starter for most of the year, but dealt with some ailments of his own early and Ryan Findley saw some playing time.
These two squads are very similar in playing styles. Both like to run a balanced offense but have stronger rushing units. Joel Bouagnon leads the backfield for Northern Illinois while Jeremy McNichols handles the carries for Boise State. Defensively, the Broncos have a significant edge, with a rush defense that ranks 13th in the country (118 ypg allowed). NIU's stop unit was exposed in its last game versus Bowling Green as it allowed over 500 yards of total offense. There are some bright spots though in the secondary, most notably Shawun Lurry, who leads the nation with nine interceptions.
NIU's regular season success hasn't translated over into the postseason over the last several years with the Huskies only winning two of their last eight bowl games. However, against the spread this season, Northern has covered 9 of 13 games while Boise went 6-6 ATS. The Broncos have covered five of their last seven bowl contests and with the shorter distance of travel, they should be well represented from a crowd perspective. I'll take the better defense in this game and lay the points with Boise State.