Marshall v. Northern Illinois
FAU Stadium — Boca Raton, FL
December 23, 2014 — 6:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
College football is about more than just the powerhouses. This matchup directly features 20 percent of the conference champions at the FBS level, and two of the five teams that were in the running for the inaugural Access Bowl bid for the Group of Five mid-major leagues. And naturally they’ve been paired against one another and sent to a college stadium to play. One of these two teams was among the most dominant programs of the entire season. And it’s yet another opportunity to say that you contributed to the ratings of a new bowl game and assured its continued survival. Isn’t this season all about giving?
What Each Team Brings to the Table
The Conference USA champions were an overtime two-point conversion away from a perfect season — and hey, Les Miles would say they were undefeated in regulation, which is something. The Thundering Herd were in the top 20 in both passing offense and rushing offense, and their 45.1 points per game were fifth-best in the nation. Sure, they played a schedule that Sagarin deemed worse than 130 other Division I programs. (Yes, this was worse than some FCS schedules.) But quarterback Rakeem Cato is capable of gashing a team like NIU after throwing for 3600 yards and 37 touchdowns, and backfield counterpart Devon Johnson averaged 8.6 yards per carry this year and will look to add to his 16 touchdowns to date in 2014. The defense deserves praise as well, allowing fewer than three touchdowns a game.
Northern Illinois is just two years removed from a trip to Miami for the Orange Bowl, and they were an upset in the MAC championship away from another berth last year. Those teams, of course, featured Jordan Lynch at quarterback. With Drew Hare manning the offense, NIU regressed in the passing game yet still managed to win 11 games for the fifth straight season (and under three different head coaches). The Huskies knocked off a Power Five opponent, Northwestern, but they also saw a home winning streak ended by Central Michigan. They’ve outscored opponents by more than a touchdown per game, and did so against a schedule that Sagarin actually deems worse than the one played by Marshall — despite playing teams from the Big Ten and SEC.
What is Likely to Happen
It’s hard to think that Marshall actually didn’t play the worst schedule of the 10 conference champions, but Northern Illinois actually managed to find an easier collection of competition than the Herd. What does that mean for the Boca Raton Bowl, though? For as good a job as Rod Carey has done with his crew in DeKalb, Doc Holliday has done even better in Huntington. Against equivalent competition, Marshall has scored 13 more points and allowed three fewer per game than the Huskies. Add in the motivation to prove that the loss to Western Kentucky was a fluke, and the Herd should ultimately run away with this contest. If the margin of victory is under 10 points, it would be a shock.
Marshall 41, Northern Illinois 24