Fresno State vs. Northern Illinois
Betting Line: Northern Illinois -1 o/u 59
Bowl season gets underway Saturday and one of the best matchups of the day pits WAC 4th place finisher Fresno State against MAC runner up Northern Illinois in the Humanitarian Bowl. Both teams have put together good season with the Huskies checking in at 10-3 overall compared to 8-4 for the Bulldogs. Northern Illinois has lost HC Jerry Kill to the Minnesota Gophers and linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz has been named interim head coach. Kill bolted after the Huskies inexplicably lost to Miami in the MAC Championship Game as 20 point favorites. He leaves behind a team that is ready to rumble and redeem itself. The Bulldogs are here to fight for a win as well.
Northern Illinois opened as a 3 point favorite and at the time of this writing they are a 1 point favorite. The Huskies high powered offense averages 37.8 PPG compared to 30.0 PPG for the Bulldogs. The Huskies are allowing 19.1 PPG which is markedly better than Fresno State’s 29.2 PPG mark. This has been a great year for Northern Illinois backers as the Huskies have gone 9-1-1 in their last 11 Games ATS. Fresno State is 3-2 in their last five. The total has come under in three consecutive Bulldogs Games. It was over in 3 of the Huskies last 5 events.
The Huskies possess an incredible rushing Game that is headed by senior RB Chad Spann. The Indianapolis native has 1,293 yards and 20 TDs on 243 rushing attempts this year. He has come up short in big Games against Iowa State, Illinois and Miami this year. He failed to reach 100 yards in any of those Games and scored in just one of them. If he has a bad Game it may be too much for the Huskies to overcome. LUckily, Spann isn’t their only weapon. QB Chandler Harnish has 2,230 passing yards and 20 TDs this year. His top targets are Willis Clark and Nathan Palmer. The latter has 27 catches for 492 yards and 6 TDs. Clark has 38 catches for 517 yards and 7 TDs.
The Fresno State offensive attack is led by senior QB Ryan Colburn. His stats are stellar. He has passed for 2,529 yards and 21 TDs. He looked great in the season finale 25-23 win over Illinois where he racked up 3 TDs and didn’t throw any INTs. He will benefit from the return of Robbie Rouse who missed the bout with the Illini. The sophomore RB has 1,097 yards and 8 TDs on 191 carries this year. If we remove the goose egg this offense laid against Boise State their average PPG goes from 30 to 32.72. They can get points on the board. If teams like Toledo can drop 30 on the Huskies we expect that Fresno State won’t have much trouble finding the end zone.
Northern Illinois has a good but not great defense. It’s tough to gauge how tough they are considering most of their Schedule was against MAC cupcake teams. When playing Minnesota, Iowa State, Illinois and Miami they allowed 470, 403, 389 and 432 total yards. This sounds huge until one considers that the largest amount of points any of those 5 teams could muster was 27. The Huskies keep pressure on opposing QBs and they lost the turnover war only twice this year.
When analyzing Fresno State we must consider that they were dreadful away from home this year. In 5 away Games they were 3-2 with a 6 point win over a 5-7 Louisiana Tech team and a 55-0 lose to Boise State. They were also scorched by 4-8 Ole Miss by a score of 55-38. Fresno’s defense was strong against the Illini giving up just 23 points. They sacked the Illinois QB 4 times. It’s tough to gauge how they will handle the Huskies offensive attack, but we have to think the Huskies will get theirs when push comes to shove.
As mentioned above, Northern Illinois will be without it’s coach, who moved on to Minnesota, as well as both their offensive and defensive coordinators who went with Hill to Minnesota. Now, that’s a big deal. We’re not going to minimize it. But it may not be as big of a deal as many people think. Coaching staffs are made up of a coach, an offensive and defensive coordinator, and then many, many assistants. Assistants that are eager and hungry. Assistants that have been waiting in the wings for their big chance. Assistants that know the playbook inside and out. All capable of driving the boat and hey, what a spotlight to show your stuff, a Bowl Game on National TV.
As far as the players go, players play. Something like this can be a rallying point. If you’re a 20 year old kid, do you think you’d go to your dorm room with your tail between your legs saying, “oh gee, we lost Our coach, we’re dead”. Or do you figure you’d instead get pumped up even more? I’d be surprised if Kill didn’t give them some sort of a pep talk before he left.
As for Fresno State, they have long been known as Giant killers. Pat Hill thrives on taking his shots at bigger more successful programs. Only problem is, Northern Illinois is no giant. In fact, they are the farthest thing from it. Motivation could be a problem here for Fresno.
As long as Northern Illinois is able to come out and play their Game, we think they come out on top. We often say there are many ways to come up with a number on a Game, and we know them all. Well, we’ve worked those numbers and each and every one of them comes up with Northern Illinois on top here, and by a decent margin.
Fresno played a Schedule roughly 6 points stronger then No Illinois. That’s figured into Our work. Turnover margin is another biggie here. Northern Illinois is a spectacular +10 on the year while Fresno State is -9. That’s a huge differeNCe folks.
We released Northern Illinois as a key release at -2.5 and informed Our readers to keep an eye on the line. If they listened, they got some extra line value as the number moved to -1. We’re a little coNCerned about the coaching situation, but hope it turns out to be a positive instead of a neGAtive. After all, it’s not midseason. Everyone knows what he needs to do. 3* Northern Illinois -1 Predicted ScoreNorthern Illinois 31 Fresno State 24