UAB vs. Northern Illinois (Boca Raton Bowl)
When: Tuesday, December 18, 7:00 PM EST
Where: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.
TV/Streaming: ESPN, WatchESPN (subscription req’d)
UAB Blazers (1st C-USA West, 10-3, 7-1)
Two years after failing to field a team, UAB went 10-3 and won the Conference USA Championship to set up a matchup with MAC champion Northern Illinois.
The Boca Raton Bowl is one of three bowl games pitting a pair of conference champions against each other, with the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl the other two.
The Blazers and Huskies won their respective conference titles in similar fashion, as UAB used a game-winning field goal with just over three minutes left to beat Middle Tennessee State, and Northern Illinois knocked off Buffalo on a touchdown pass with just over a minute remaining.
UAB lost in Week 2 to Coastal Carolina but reeled off eight-straight wins to move to 9-1 before losing to Texas A&M in Week 13. UAB lost to Middle Tennessee State in the final week of the season but advanced to the Conference USA title game to beat the Blue Raiders in a rematch 27-25.
UAB’s unit ranks 10th in the FBS in total defense while also ranking fourth in sacks per game (3.35) and fifth in tackles for loss per game (8.1). The Blazers defense is giving up just 300.2 yards per game and 17.3 points per game.
The Blazer offense is a run first type of offense and tries to keep the time of possession.
Key Player: QB Tyler Johnston III stepped in for A.J. Erdely down the stretch after Erdely got hurt, and kept the ship going in the right direction. Johnston has 950 passing yards and 331 rushing yards in part-time duty, and is a versatile weapon. He will be the key the making the right reads against the stout NIU defense. He has a 3-1 record since assuming the starting role back in November.
Fantasy Bonus Baby: RB Spencer Brown has been the workhorse for the Blazer offense. He has 1,149 yards and 16 touchdowns thus far this season. With UAB looking to run first, Brown should be a good play but how Johnston plays in the key will be key to Brown being able to open up the running game.
Northern Illinois Huskies (1st MAC West, 8-5, 6-2)
NIU started the season 0-2 with losses to Iowa and Utah. 0-2 turned into 1-3 with a loss to Florida State in Week 4. When the MAC schedule got going, NIU got rolling. The Huskies won six-straight games before losing to Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan to end the season. NIU won the MAC West and beat Buffalo 30-29 in the MAC title game.
Undoubtedly, the strength of the Huskies is their defense. They only allowed six points to BYU and held six opponents to 20 points or less. This group is the nation’s best pass-rushing defense statistically. NIU’s defense leads the nation in sacks with 50.
The Huskies lea the MAC in total defense with 347.8 yards allowed per game, 4.61 yards per play and 21.5 points per game.
The NIU offense has struggled at times during the year but much like UAB starts with its running game. NIU’s running attack unit has totaled 2,004 yards and 16 touchdowns so far this season.
Key Player: DE Sutton Smith, who was a running back before switching positions, Smith leads the FBS in sacks with 15 and is second in the nation in tackles for loss with 24.5. He has also been a strong performer on special teams with some block field goals. He will need to play all over the field for the Huskies to stay in the game.
Fantasy Bonus Baby: QB Marcus Childers is coming off a career game in the Mid-American Conference Championship, when he threw for a career-high 300 yards and four touchdowns to defeat Buffalo. He has also been a key part of the running attack for the Husky offense. Look for him to have great statistics in this game and should be a good play.
Jamie: UAB restarted its football program and has quickly become a good team. Northern Illinois is one of the more consistent teams in the country year after year. This should be a good game decided in the fourth quarter: UAB 27, Northern Illinois 23
Kent: Both teams are averaging under 30 points a contest and bring two of the nation’s top defenses in this match-up. Because of the strong defenses,inning the turnover battle and converting third downs to keep drives alive will loom large to the winner. I see UAB has the slightly stronger team and will have just enough offense to win its first ever bowl game. UAB 21, Northern Illinois 17
Chuck: This game simply comes down to energy. UAB’s emotions on building their program back to a bowl qualifier are going to carry them through. UAB 27, Northern Illinois 10