WHO: 8-5 Utah State (MWC) vs. 12-1 Northern Illinois (MAC)
WHAT: San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (9th year)
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif.
WHEN: Dec. 26 at 9:30 p.m. ET
WHY: Just like Fresno State, Northern Illinois is likely pleased to be a part of the postseason but extremely disappointed over its ultimate destination after what could’ve been.
Thanks to the Bulldogs late-season loss that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten, the Huskies were sitting in the driver’s seat for a spot at the BCS table. All it would’ve taken was a win in the MAC championship game for NIU to bust the BCS for the second consecutive season. Alas, a 47-27 loss at the hands of Bowling Green ended both the Huskies’ unbeaten season and BCS dreams.
The Poinsettia Bowl will, though, feature the first of the six 2013 Heisman finalists in the postseason in the form of Jordan Lynch. The NIU quarterback is currently second in the country in rushing with 1,881 yards and tied for third in rushing touchdowns with 22. Lynch has one 300-yard passing game this season; he’s done that twice rushing, including a 321-yard effort Nov. 26 that is the all-time record for a quarterback at the FBS level. Lynch will have a tough defensive row to hoe putting up those kind of numbers against Utah State, however.
In the first season under Matt Wells, who took over after Gary Andersen left for Wisconsin, the Aggies are 10th in the country in rushing defense at 107.3 yards per game; Lynch himself ran for at least that many yards in eight of 13 games this year. Overall, USU is seventh in scoring defense (17.3 points per game) and 12th in total defense (332.1 yards per game). Conversely, Northern Illinois is fifth in total offense (535.5 ypg) and eighth in scoring offense (41.6 ppg).
USU overcame a 3-4 start to the season — and the loss of All-Everything quarterback Chuckie Keeton — to win the final five games of the regular season and qualify for the Mountain West Championship game as the Mountain Division winner. Oddly enough, it was Fresno State that put an end to Utah State’s winning streak in that title game and set up the Poinsettia matchup.
PREDICTION: Utah State 27, Northern Illinois 24