Cameron Stingily

CFT Previews: The Boca Raton Bowl

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WHO: Northern Illinois (11-2) vs. Marshall (12-1)

WHAT: The inaugural Boca Raton Bowl

WHERE: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida

WHEN: 6:00 p.m. ET Dec. 23 on ESPN

THE SKINNY: The brand new Boca Raton Bowl has quite the match-up of non-power conference champions. The champions of Conference USA (Marshall) and the MAC (Northern Illinois) should provide for a good, quality game. For Marshall, it may be one last attempt to prove itself to be the top non-power conference champion after passed over by Boise State for a spot in the New Years Six line-up. Marshall and NIU combined for a record of 23-3 this season.

Marshall’s offense centers around the veteran quarterback Rakeem Cato. Cato should be able to find his targets — Tommy Shuler and Davonte Allen are his top two receivers — against NIU’s secondary, which ranks 64th in the nation in pass defense. Cato may have to extend some plays with his feet though, as NIU should be expected to bring pressure in the backfield. NIU recorded 30 sacks this season, but they go up against a Marshall offensive line that has done well in protecting their quarterback. Cato may have to extend some plays with his feet at times. Fortunately for the Conference USA champions and head coach Doc Holliday, this is something Cato does well. Cato has rushed for 457 yards and six touchdowns this season.

Marshall went 3-0 against the MAC this season with wins against Miami, Ohio and Akron, but NIU will be the biggest test for the Thundering Herd. NIU started the season off a little bit on a slow note as they looked to replace Jordan Lynch, but the Huskies ended the season hitting their stride at a very good time. Drew Hare has come along as a dual-threat player under center, but the running game is powered mostly by Cameron Stingily, a tough and physical back with the ability to wear down Marshall’s defense.

Marshall has won three straight bowl games dating back to 2009. The Huskies of NIU are looking to snap a two-game losing streak in postseason bowl action. Head coach Rod Carey is 0-2 in bowl games, including one Orange Bowl loss to Florida State in an interim role at the end of the 2012 season after Dave Doeren left the Huskies for NC State.

THE PREDICTION: NIU 34, Marshall 31

NIU sets pace in MAC West, Akron inches closer to bowl game

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Needing a win in order to stay atop the MAC West, and put the pressure on Toledo and Western Michigan to keep winning, Northern Illinois (9-2, 6-1 MAC) won a defensive battle at Ohio Tuesday night. A 21-14 victory against the Ohio Bobcats (5-6, 3-4 MAC) moves Northern Illinois into sole possession of first place for now.

NIU quarterback Drew Hare was your star of the night for the Huskies. Hare passed for 178 yards and two touchdowns and led the team running the football with 65 yards. NIU running back Cameron Stingily has carried the load for NIU in recent weeks, but he was relegated to just 43 yards and a touchdown Tuesday night. Ohio was unable to capitalize on a good evening from running back A.J. Ouellette, who rushed for a game-high 127 yards and a touchdown. Ohio quarterback Derrius Vick passed for 141 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 80 yards to contribute to the Ohio offense on a cold night in Athens.

Toledo gets a chance to keep pace Wednesday night at home against MAC East champion Bowling Green. Western Michigan will play at Central Michigan on Saturday. Northern Illinois plays at Western Michigan in the final week of the season. If Northern Illinois wins at Western Michigan, the Huskies will win the MAC West and head to Detroit for  rematch with Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game. If Western Michigan wins its final two games and Toledo loses once, the Broncos will play in Detroit. Toledo advances to the MAC Championship Game with two Western Michigan wins if the Rockets win out.

NIU is likely on the outside of the Group of Five conversations unless a series of crazy events unfold in the final few weeks. It is not impossible to get enough help out of the Mountain West Conference (Boise State, Colorado State, Utah State… Air Force?) and perhaps Conference USA (Marshall), but even if NIU finishes on a roll it may not be enough to crack the NEw Years bowl games this season.

Ohio is not in any division race but hopes to play in the postseason. The Bobcats must win its season finale next Tuesday night at Miami Ohio in order to become bowl eligible for the sixth straight season.

Akron 30, UMass 7

With the win, Akron (5-6, 3-4 MAC) remains in the running to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2005. Kyle Pohl passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns and the Zips defense forced four turnovers in a 30-7 win against UMass (3-8, 3-4 MAC). John Mackey Award semifinalist Jean Sifrin had a pair of catches for 23 yards and recorded the only touchdown of the night for UMass.

Akron now needs to win its final game of the year in order to clinch bowl eligibility. They will have to do so on the road, against a woeful Kent State team next Tuesday night.

UMass will play its final game in the MAC next week, at home against Buffalo. The Minutemen will be leaving the MAC after this season, and it looks as though the football program will move forward as an independent in 2015 unless anything changes in a relatively short amount of time.