Boise State v. Northern Illinois
Qualcomm Stadium — San Diego, CA
December 23, 2015 — 4:30 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
Over the past several seasons, this would have been a monster matchup for whatever lower-level bowl game was able to land these two teams together. This year, the Poinsettia Bowl has two name-brand Group of Five teams that congruently suffered through relative down seasons for each. Sure, one came out the other end of the regular season as a division winner, but they backed into the honor and arrive in San Diego on a two-game losing streak. Their opponent was playing in and winning a New Year’s Six game as recently as last season, but a pair of rare home losses sent them out of the running for that honor in 2015. These two teams will be playing in San Diego’s undercard game for the Holiday Bowl a week later, and while they are fallen Cinderellas they still bring plenty to the table in this first-ever showdown against one another.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Boise State Broncos
In the preseason it seemed like nothing was standing in the way of Boise State’s return to the New Year’s Six. Once they knocked off former head coach Chris Petersen and his new team Washington in the season opener, it looked like they had the statement win to weather even a few losses through the course of the year. Even after taking that first loss to BYU on the road, they rolled to a 5-1 start and looked to be right on course. Then they lost three of their final six on the backstretch of conference play. The Broncos, despite their setbacks, fielded a top-20 offense and a top-30 defense. It was the defensive unit that really carried the team through the year, though it was also that unit which betrayed Boise State when they lost — while the Broncos coughed up only 13 points on average in each of their eight wins, that number escalated to an average of 39 points per defeat. Which defense will show up in San Diego?
Northern Illinois Huskies
The Huskies was extremely lucky in nabbing its sixth straight MAC West title, backing into the division crown after Toledo lost to Western Michigan on the final weekend of November. Northern Illinois also reached eight wins, rebounding from a 2-3 start to win six straight in the heart of the season. They were nearly as imposing as Boise State was in their wins, posting an average 18-point margin of victory. Their losses were far less damning, too, as they lost three games within one score (including at Ohio State and at Boston College) and were only blown out in the MAC championship game against Bowling Green. NIU will need to do its best to sustain drives, as they have suffered through one of the 10 worst net punting seasons in the country. If they can manage to overcome one of the lowest averages for time of possession in FBS, they have a shot at upsetting the Broncos.
What is Likely to Happen
Make no mistake, even after finishing the regular season with an equivalent 8-4 record and missing out on a conference championship opportunity, Boise State is still the clear favorite. Various sportsbooks have them giving between eight and nine points, and even that might be too low given their offensive prowess. What you are likely to see is the Broncos jumping out to an early lead, just like they did last year in the Fiesta Bowl against Arizona. Unlike last year, however, Northern Illinois probably doesn’t have the firepower to claw back out of their first-half hole. Look for Jeremy McNichols to have a big day on the ground for Boise against the nation’s 66th-ranked rushing defense, and for Brett Rypien to find his receivers open in the secondary all day long. This is a contest that will only get uglier as it gets deeper into the clock.
Boise State 48, Northern Illinois 27
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