College Football Poinsettia Bowl Handicapping: Utah State Aggies vs #23 Northern Illinois Huskies

2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Utah State Aggies vs #23 Northern Illinois Huskies 

Qualcomm Stadium – San Diego, California
Thursday, December 26, 2013, 9:30 pm Eastern, TV ESPN
Opening Line: Northern Illinois -2
Current Line: Northern Illinois -1 1/2
Opening Total: 58
Current Total: 58
Opening Money Line: NIU -115 / Utah State -105
Current Money Line: NIU -110 / Utah State -110 

Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois are favored in San Diego against Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl Thursday.
Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois are favored in San Diego against Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl Thursday.

The Northern Illinois Huskies went 12-0 in the regular season but were upset by Bowling Green 47-27 in the MAC Championship game in Detroit. The loss cost the Huskies a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, which would have been the second straight trip to BCS game for NIU. The Huskies lost to Florida State 31-10 in the Orange Bowl season. Northern Illinois is led by quarterback Jordan Lynch who was a Heisman finalist. This is the last game of an incredible career for the senior.

Northern Illinois has to settle for a trip to San Diego to take on the 8-5 Utah State Aggies of the Mountain West in the Poinsettia Bowl Thursday. Utah State won the only previous meeting between the schools 42-7 in 1995 in Logan when both schools were members of the now defunct Big West Conference for a season.

Utah State won the Mountain West Mountain Division title with a 7-1 record. The Aggies lost at Fresno State 24-17 in the Mountain West Championship game. Utah State is 2-6 all-time in bowl games. The Aggies are making their third straight trip to a bowl game for the first time in program history. Utah State has played MAC teams the last two seasons in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise. The Aggies lost to Ohio 24-23 in 2011 and beat Toledo 41-15 last year in Boise.

Northern Illinois won the MAC West Division with an 8-0 record. The Huskies are 4-4 in bowl games all-time, and are making their sixth straight bowl appearance. NIU lost 37-7 to TCU in their only other appearance in this game. It was also the only time the Huskies have faced a Mountain West team in a bowl game.

Utah State is coached by Matt Wells. The Aggies have additional road losses at Utah 30-26 and USC 17-14, along with home losses to BYU 31-14 and Boise State 34-23. Before the Fresno State loss, Utah State had won 5 straight games. The Aggies have home wins over Weber State 70-6, Hawaii 47-10, Colorado State 13-0, and Wyoming 35-7, along with road wins at Air Force 52-20, San Jose State 40-12, New Mexico 45-10, and UNLV 28-24. Utah State is 8-5 ATS and the total is 6-7 this season. The Aggies were 2.5 point underdogs at Fresno State and the total was 61.

Utah State is outscoring teams 33-17 this season. They are #7 nationally in points allowed and #44 in scoring out of 125 FBS teams. The Aggies are averaging 420.9 total yards per game including 241.3 passing yards and 179.6 rushing yards. On defense, Utah State is allowing 332.2 total yards per game, including 224.8 passing yards and 107.4 rushing yards. The Aggies are #12 in total defense and #10 in rush defense.The Aggies are +11 in turnovers with 28 takeaways. Utah State is averaging 59 penalty yards per game and opponents are averaging 50. The Aggies are 105/233 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 84/242 . Utah State is 49/57 scoring in the red zone with 38 touchdowns and opponents are 29/41 with 17 touchdowns. The Aggies have forced 32 sacks and allowed 32 this season. Utah State has 2 punt returns for touchdowns, two pick sixes and a fumble return for a touchdown, and has allowed 2 defensive touchdowns.

Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton tore his ACL earlier in the season. He  completed 69.4% of his passes for 1,388 yards with 18 touchdowns and 2 picks, along with 55 carries, 241 yards and 2 touchdowns. Darrell Garettson took over as the starter. He has completed 60.6% of his passes for 1,325 yards with 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, along with 39 rushing yards. He left the Fresno State game with a concussion and was replaced by Craig Harrison. Garretson is probable Thursday against NIU. For the season, Harrison has completed 47.3% of his passes for 434 yards with 2  touchdowns and an interception, plus he also has 16 carries for 60 yards.

Running back Joey DeMartino has 198 carries, 1,078 yards and 12 touchdowns, along with 12 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. Robert Marshall has 88 carries, 375 yards and a touchdown, plus 3 catches for 42 yards. Joe Hill has 53 carries, 252 yards and a touchdown, along with 13 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. He is out for the season with a knee injury.

Receiver Travis Reynolds has 51 catches, 832 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is questionable with a knee injury. Travis Van Leeuwen has 50 catches, 638 yards and 3 touchdowns. Bruce Natson has 56 catches for 384 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 23 carries for 95 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. He also has 2 punt returns for touchdowns. Brandon Swindall has 25 catches, 257 yards and 5 touchdowns. Keegan Andersen, Ronald Butler, and D.J. Tialavea all have 3 touchdown catches this season. Tight end  Tialavea is out for the season for undisclosed reasons.

Northern Illinois is coached by Rod Carey in his first season. The Huskies have road wins at Iowa 30-27, Idaho 45-35, Purdue 55-24, Kent State 38-24, Central Michigan 38-17, Massachusetts 63-19 and at Toledo 35-17. NIU has home wins over Eastern Illinois 43-39, Akron 27-20, Eastern Michigan 59-20, Ball State 48-27 and against Western Michigan 33-14. The Huskies are 8-5 ATS and the total is 8-5 this season. Northern Illinois was a 3 point favorite against Bowling Green and the total was 58.

Northern Illinois is outscoring teams 42-25 this season. NIU is #8 nationally in scoring. The Huskies are averaging 535.5 yards per game (#5 nationally), including 312.5 rushing yards (#4 nationally) and 223.1 passing yards. On defense, NIU is allowing 423.9 yards per game including 273.8 passing yards and 150.2 rushing yards. The Huskies are #91 in total defense, and#114 in pass defense out of 125 teams. Northern Illinois is +13 in turnovers with 28 takeaways. The Huskies are averaging 46 penalty yards per game. and opponents are averaging 49.  NIU is 93/197 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 93/237. The Huskies have forced 32 sacks and allowed 9. NIU is 61/70 scoring in the red zone with 47 touchdowns, and their opponents are 33/39 with 25 touchdowns. The Huskies have 2 pick sixes and a kickoff return for a touchdown, and have allowed a kick return and a fumble return for touchdowns.

Lynch has completed 63.1% of his passes for 2,676 yards with 23 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Lynch is also the leading rusher with 274 carries, 1,881 yards and 22 touchdowns, and also has a touchdown catch. Back-ups Drew Hare and Matt McIntosh have each thrown two touchdown passes, mostly in garbage time of blowouts. Hare also has a rushing touchdown.

Running back Cameron Stingily has 192 carries, 1,081 yards and 9 touchdowns, along with 6 catches.  James Spencer has 27 carries for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns along with 13 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. Keith Harris, Jr is out for the season with an ankle injury. He had 143 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, along with a receiving touchdown. Running back Akeem Daniels is also out indefinitely with a foot injury.

Receiver Da’Ron Brown has 42 catches, 689 yards and 9 touchdowns, along with 40 rushing yards. He missed the Bowling Green game with a hamstring injury, but is listed as probable for the Bowl game.  Tommylee Lewis has 80 catches, 660 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 28 carries for 356 yards and a touchdown. He also has a kick return for a touchdown and even threw a touchdown pass. He is probable with a toe injury.  Juwan Brescacin has 30 catches for 469 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Tight end Luke Eakes has only 9 catches, but two of them have gone for touchdowns. Little used receiver Angelo Sebastiano is questionable Thursday. Nine other receivers and running backs have caught touchdown passes. Cornerback Marckie Hayes and linebacker Rasheen Lemon  are both out for the season.

Utah State is 5-0 ATS on grass, 5-1-1 after a straight up loss, 4-1 after failing to cover, 12-3 in non-conference games, and 12-3-1 after scoring less than 20 points, 17-5-1 after allowing 450 total yards or more, 19-6-1 overall, 6-2 after allowing less than 100 rushing yards, 12-4 against teams with winning records, 5-2 after rushing for less than 100 yards and 2-5 in Thursday games.

Northern Illinois is 21-5 ATS after allowing 280 passing yards or more, 15-4-2 after gaining 450 total yards or more, 5-2 overall, 3-10-1 in neutral site games, 2-7 on grass, and 1-6 in December.

The Achilles’ heel for Northern Illinois has been their horrible defense. Against MAC teams the offense was usually able to overcome the defensive liability but Bowling Green racked up almost 600 total yards and 47 points in the MAC Championship game. Utah State hasn’t been nearly as explosive on offense since Keeton was injured, so Northern Illinois has the potential to outscore the Aggies. However, Utah State has a top 10 rush defense. I think the Aggies can contain Lynch and Stingily on the ground. I also question Northern Illinois’s motivation after having a chance to play in a BCS game and having to settle for a trip to San Diego. I like Utah State to pull off the upset in a relatively low scoring game in the 40’s.

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