Boise State Broncos (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (8-5 SU, 7-4-2 ATS)
San Diego Country Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Date/Time: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 at 4:30PM EST
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: BSU -8/NIU +8
Over/Under Total: 56
On Wednesday, the Boise State Broncos meet the Northern Illinois Huskies in San Diego in the Poinsettia Bowl. This wasn’t a bad year for Northern Illinois, who played in a demanding MAC and got on a nice roll right before the end of the year. It carried them to a division title, but they ended up losing to Bowling Green in the MAC title game on December 4. They will now face another 8-win team in the Boise State Broncos. The Broncos last played on November 27 in a 40-23 win over San Jose State. Look for a good game in the Poinsettia Bowl.
The Huskies opened the 2015 season with two wins before suffering three straight losses to Ohio State, Boston College and conference team Central Michigan. To their credit, they gave top-rated Ohio State a scare in a 7-point loss, before losing by 3 to BC on the road. The CMU loss was more unsettling, but they quickly rallied back from those setbacks, winning 6 in a row. And they were able to overcome the loss of starting quarterback Drew Hare, who went down in a game against unbeaten and ranked Toledo. Ryan Graham came in and helped the Huskies get their biggest win of the season. Graham also showed his mettle in a win over WMU, but the Huskies lost two in a row to end the season, dropping games to Ohio and then to Bowling Green in the title game. That shouldn’t negate what was a good season for an NIU team that didn’t catch a lot of good breaks this season.
NIU dealt with Graham getting hurt in the Ohio game and not playing in the finale, which definitely hurt their chances with a greenhorn third-stringer in there. But the extra time off means Graham will be back for this game and he has shown his worth this year behind center. He leans heavily on a heck of a back in Joel Bouagnon, who had 18 touchdowns on the season. Another good back in Jordan Huff ran for 8 TDs this year and Graham has made a nice connection with receiver Kenny Golladay, who had 1122 yards along with ten touchdowns on the season. They mix it up nicely at times, but their offense could be characterized as being run-heavy.
Northern Illinois held up decently against some pretty good offenses this season. During their win-streak, no team went over 30 points and that’s really good with some of the offensive attacks they saw during that period. At the same time, there is a general leakiness to them in general that a team like Boise State may be able to exploit. But they still are a “D” that can make plays and are 4th in the whole FBS in interceptions. The nation’s leader is one of their top defensive players, cornerback Shawun Lurry, who had 9 picks on the season.
Boise State measured against its own expectations may have been a letdown in some respects, but they still won 8 games and look to cap off the season with a nice bowl win. Both of these teams are smaller programs who have been able to sniff the big-time in recent years. Neither team scaled those heights this season, but that doesn’t mean they’re not ultra-dangerous on the right day. Boise State, however, looked a good year away for most of the season and enter this with two losses in their last three games—against Air Force and New Mexico. On three separate occasions this season, they were beaten badly as double-digit favorites. At the end of the day, they never really registered that signature win and a victory over NIU would likely represent their best triumph of the season.
The Boise offense looks to have a good future in the hands of QB Brett Rypien. Though he came on in late-September after an injury to the original starter, he threw for almost 3000 yards on the season. The youngster leans heavily on running back Jeremy McNichols, who was one of the more-productive backs in the MWC this season with 18 touchdowns on 1244 yards running, along with 46 receptions. WR Thomas Sperbeck figures to be a handful in this game, as will be Chaz Anderson and Shane Williams-Rhodes. This is an offense that averages nearly 38 points per game. At times, they were really good and they look to have the superior offensive artillery between the two teams.
If one part of the Boise State team doesn’t seem to be coming into this game with a head of steam, it’s the defense. Their stats look fine—the 24th ranked unit in the land—12th against the run and 26th against the pass and allowing just over 21 points per game. But that numerical description creates an image that they may not be able to live up to. At the end of the season, they were getting run over by the New Mexico ground-game and had generally looked suspect in the closing weeks. At the same time, they are also a playmaking defense and picked off 22 passes this season—good for third in the country.
This locale isn’t all that close to Boise, but the Broncos are more in their element, while San Diego is more outside of the Huskies’ wheelhouse. The farthest west NIU played this year was at their home stadium in Illinois. But there is something about this Boise State team that is so unproven at this level. Other than a week one win over a Washington team that ended up 6-6, they never really beat what you could call a good team. And if you bet on them in this game, they will need to not only beat a good team, but do so by a pretty decent margin. I look for pumped-up NIU team to play hard and hang in there to cover the spread.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Northern Illinois Huskies plus 8 points.
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