Poinsettia Bowl breakdown: Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Utah State Aggies
Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Utah State (8-5)
Dec. 26, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: A year after finishing seventh in Heisman Trophy voting, Jordan Lynch came in third in 2013, the highest-ever finish for a player from the MAC and tied for the highest finish (with Hawaii’s Colt Brennan) for a player from a non-AQ conference. The Northern Illinois quarterback has 2,676 passing yards, 1,881 rushing yards and 45 total touchdowns (23 passing, 22 rushing) entering Thursday night’s game against Utah State. Lynch’s draft prospects are iffy at best, and he may have to change positions to play in the NFL, but he’s a special player as a college quarterback. His quest to reach 2,000 rushing yards — he already snapped the FBS single-season rushing record for a quarterback this year — is impressive enough.
• Keep an eye on: The Aggies’ defense, which was the best unit in the Mountain West. Utah State held opponents to 17.3 points per game, seventh nationally, and ranks eighth overall in Defensive S&P, via Football Outsiders. Linebacker Jake Doughty — who has 140 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble — anchors an aggressive bunch. The Aggies rank 17th in the country in turnover margin (0.8). They could give NIU, which struggled against a physical Bowling Green defense in the MAC championship, some trouble.
• Did you know: Diesel, the Huskies’ mascot, is is retiring after this season. He has roamed the sidelines for the past nine years and has been around four different head coaches and five MAC West champions (or co-champions) during that stretch. The name of NIU’s new mascot: Mission. I’m sure he’ll be great, too, because all dogs are great. Basically, this is just another excuse to post one of the best GIFs of 2013.
(via SB Nation)
• Final analysis: The Huskies have had time to fully regroup after their defeat in the MAC title game, which cost them a chance at a repeat BCS bowl berth. Lynch is coming off the high of his trip to the Heisman ceremony in New York, and Northern Illinois has a shot to win 13 games for the first time in school history. On the other sideline, Utah State’s Matt Wells has quietly done one of the best coaching jobs in college football this season after replacing the departed Gary Andersen. But against the Huskies’ potent attack, the Aggies inability to consistently put points on the board –a problem since they lost star quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a knee injury against BYU on Oct. 4 — is cause for concern.
• The pick: Northern Illinois 24, Utah State 17