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Reply To: NCAAF • "College Bowl Games" • Wednesday 12/23/15

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Boise St. favored big over No. Illinois Wednesday
By Brian Graham

BOISE STATE BRONCOS (8-4) vs. NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES (8-5)

‘Poinsettia Bowl’
Qualcomm Stadium – San Diego, CA
Kickoff: Wednesday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Line: Boise State -8.5, Total: 56

Two eight-win teams missing No. 1 quarterbacks will meet in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon when Boise State takes on Northern Illinois.

The Broncos (6-6 ATS) have been without QB Ryan Finley (ankle) for most of the year, while the Huskies (8-4-1 ATS) saw top QB Drew Hare rupture his Achilles tendon in November. Boise State has still piled up 37.7 PPG this year, including 40.3 PPG away from home, but NIU has a mere 35 points and six turnovers during a current two-game losing skid. The Huskies have lost all three bowls under head coach Rod Carey, while the Broncos are 5-1 in their past six bowls, including head coach Bryan Harsin’s Fiesta Bowl win last season. Although Boise State has dropped two of its past three games by allowing more than 30 points each to New Mexico and Air Force, the team is 33-12 ATS (73%) after two ATS losses in its previous three games since 1992, including a perfect 7-0 ATS under Harsin. But Northern Illinois has thrived in the underdog role since 1992, going 49-31 ATS (61%), and benefits from its Wednesday opponent falling in the category of favorites of 3.5 to 10 points with a good rushing defense (125 or less rush YPG), after 5.5+ YPC in its previous game going 19-46 ATS (29%) in the past five seasons. On the injury front, both teams have a pair of questionable players to deal with, as the Broncos might be without WR Austin Cottrell (leg) and DB Darian Thompson (concussion), while the Huskies could be missing QB Ryan Graham (leg) and WR Tommylee Lewis (knee).

Boise State averages 489 total YPG this season, and has topped 30 points in 11 straight contests, including seven games of 40+ points. The team is very balanced with season averages of 40 passes and 41 rushes per game, but is more efficient through the air (304 YPG, 7.5 YPA) than on the ground (184 YPG, 4.4 YPC). Freshman QB Brett Rypien has done a great job all season with 2,976 passing yards (7.6 YPA), 17 TD and 7 INT. He has zero picks in seven of 10 games, and has thrown for at least two scores in four of the past five contests. His favorite target is junior WR Thomas Sperbeck (82 rec, 1,334 yds, 8 TD), who has more than 150 receiving yards in four of his past seven outings, including 281 yards on 20 catches versus New Mexico three games ago. The Broncos also have a star ball carrier in sophomore RB Jeremy McNichols (1,244 rush yds, 5.6 YPC, 18 TD), who has a streak of seven straight 100-yard efforts, including 120+ yards in each of the past five contests. The elusive 5-foot-9, 205-pounder also has 46 catches for 364 yards and 5 TD to give him eight multi-touchdown games this season. Although the Broncos have struggled to stop their past three opponents (30.3 PPG, 498 total YPG), they are still allowing only 21.3 PPG on 342 total YPG for the season. The run-stop unit has been outstanding in limiting teams to 118 YPG on 3.4 YPC, including 105 YPG and 3.0 YPC away from home. The secondary has given up a respectable 224 passing YPG on 6.9 YPA this season, and the whole defense has benefitted greatly from 28 forced turnovers, including 10 over the past four games. This could be problematic for a Huskies offense that had five miscues in the last game.

Northern Illinois has turned the ball over at least twice in eight games during the 2015 campaign, but is still averaging a strong 33.0 PPG and 427 total YPG this season. Although the Huskies choose to run the football 62% of the time, resulting in 205 rushing YPG on 4.3 YPC, they have a mere 27:09 average time of possession. The strong passing game tallies 222 YPG on 7.5 YPA this season, but NIU could be forced to start third-string QB Tommy Fiedler in this bowl game with No. 2 QB Ryan Graham (8.1 YPA, 6 TD, 3 INT) injured. The freshman Fiedler has played each of the past two games, where he has completed only 21-of-45 throws (47%) for 265 yards (5.9 YPA), 2 TD and 3 INT. Whoever is under center will look often to top WR Kenny Golladay, who has caught 71 passes for 1,122 yards and 10 TD this year. Although the junior has more than 125 yards on four different occasions, he was held to one catch for 15 yards in the MAC Championship Game loss to Bowling Green. The bulk of the ball carrying belongs to RB Joel Bouagnon, who has rushed 275 times for 1,269 yards (4.6 YPC) and 18 touchdowns. But in the past three weeks, the junior has been held to 164 yards on 51 carries (3.2 YPC). Considering how long the Huskies are on the field (32:51 per game), they have done a solid job in holding teams to 25.5 PPG and 400 total YPG. They allow 167 YPG on the ground, but only 3.9 YPC, and of the 233 passing YPG they give up, opposing quarterbacks average a pedestrian 6.3 yards per attempt. Turnovers have also been huge for NIU, which has recorded multiple takeaways in five straight contests.