Northern Illinois Huskies (11-2 SU, 7-6 ATS) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd (12-1 SU, 8-5 ATS)
Boca Raton Bowl
Date and Time: Tuesday, December 23, 2014, 6:00 pm EST
Where: Howard Schnellenberger Field at FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NIll. +10/Marsh. -10
Over/Under Total: 65
Bet your Huskies/Thundering Herd pick at an online sportsbook where your credit card WILL work for deposits and where you’ll receive a generous 50% bonus up to $250 FREE: Bovada Sportsbook. Great live in-game betting too!
The organizers of the first-ever Boca Raton Bowl couldnt have dreamed of a better matchup for their inaugural bowl game on December 23rd, as they will be host to two conference champions when the Conference USA champion Marshall Thundering Herd take on the Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois Huskies inside FAU Stadium in Boca Raton on ESPN.
The Herd nearly ran the table in C-USA play this season, with only a, 67-66, overtime loss to Western Kentucky in the final week of the regular season as their only loss on the season. The hangover of the loss nearly cost them another game in the C-USA championship game a week later, but the Herd rallied for 10 points in the fourth quarter to score a come-from-behind, 26-23, victory over Louisiana Tech to win the conference title.
Northern Illinois, playing in their fifth straight MAC Championship game, eliminated any doubt early in their run to the title, drilling Bowling Green a new one with a, 51-17, thumping at Ford Field in Detroit. The victory was the Huskies seventh straight win going back to early October, and gave them their third MAC title in five tries as the continue to be the elite program inside the MAC Conference.
With an 11-win team playing against a 12-win team, youd be expecting a little closer of an opening point spread for the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl, but thats not the case for this one. Marshall and their impressive 12-win season opened as surprising 10.5-point favorites in the neutral site game in Florida. After a week of being up on the board, the number has only dropped the hook down to Marshall minus -10 at most sportsbooks both in Las Vegas and on the Web.
The over/under total opened at 64.5 and it too has only moved a little, going up to 65 at the largest majority of sportsbooks, with just a scant few still listing the total at 64.5.
Offense will be the flavor of the day in Boca Raton for this one, as both teams bring some pretty heavy-hitting scoring offenses into the bowl game on the 23rd.
Marshalls final statistics for the season are highly impressive, including an average of 563 yards of total offense per game (2nd in FBS), 276 yards rushing each game (7th) and an scoring average of 45.1 points per game (5th). Senior quarterback Rakeem Cato has thrown for 3,622 yards and 37 touchdowns on the year, and running back Devon Johnson ran for 1,636 yards and 18 TDs despite missing the title game with La. Tech with a bum shoulder. One of the main reasons the Huskies made a strong run down the stretch of the MAC season was because of the leaps-n-bounds improvement of their defense, which ended as 55th in FBS allowing 383 yards a game and just 23.6 points per game (only 19 points per game in last six games). Theyve also become a turnover machine, forcing 17 turnovers in the last five games including six in a key win over Western Michigan and four in the MAC title game against Bowling Green.
Northern Illinois brings its own high scoring offense into the bowl game, with sophomore quarterback Drew Hare running one of the more efficient units around that ended the year averaging 32.2 points a game. Hare is exceptional running the Huskies read-option attack (850 yards rushing, 8 TD) and when he does decide to pull it out and pass it, hes thrown for over 2,097 yards and 17 TDs to just two interceptions all season long. Big back Cameron Stingily (895 yards, 13 TD) will move the pile when he has too, and WR DaRon Brown went over the 1,000 yards mark on the season in the title game win over the Falcons. With an offense that averages 45 points a game, you wouldnt expect Marshall to be very strong defensively, but they arent nearly as bad as the 67 points they gave up in their loss. Keep in mind, those numbers came against the Florida Internationals, Florida Atlantics, Southern Mississippis and UABs of the C-USA, but they still play the pass really strong (allowing just 195 ypg 24th in FBS), which wont help them as much as they think against the running game of the Huskies (253 ypg 14th).
Marshall used to be in the MAC up until 2005, so these two schools have a short history against each other. Marshall enjoyed those old MAC days against the Huskies, as the Herd beat them in 1999 in a huge way, 41-9, and their second and only other meeting in 2001 ended in similar fashion with a, 37-15, Marshall victory. Both also ended in Marshall covers, the first one in 1999 as large 25.5-point favorites.
These two also had two common opponents this season, as Marshall played three teams from the MAC during their non-conference schedule. On paper, Marshalls two wins over Miami (OH) (the Herd won 42-27) and Ohio (44-14) were way more impressive then when the Huskies beat them later in the year during MAC play, with Northern Illinois wins (51-41 over Miami (OH); 21-14 over Ohio) much tighter contests by much narrower margins.
There arent too many betting trends to note, but the under looks like it might be worth a wager. The under is 4-0 in Marshalls last four bowl games and 4-0 in their last four neutral site games. But the under is also 4-0 when Northern Illinois plays on Tuesday, but that may be more of a coincidence than trend.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread:Marshall looked like they might sneak into a New Years Day bowl the way the were destroying teams early in the season against their non-conference foes and the weak sisters of C-USA. But as they got later and later into the season, the sledding got tougher and they were lucky to slip away with a win their last time out in the C-USA title game. Just the opposite, the Huskies have been playing their best football of the season the past few weeks. Both defenses are better then they get credit for, and the extra few weeks off before the bowl game helps to heal nagging injuries, but it also helps to add a layer of rustiness in the early going. Im bucking the public on this game, and Im taking the under of 65, with a slight lean toward Northern Illinois covering with the extra 10 points.