Poinsettia Bowl Pick
There was preseason talk of Boise State crashing the Playoff party if they went undefeated, but that never came to fruition for the Broncos, who lost Four Games and didn’t even win their MWC division. They’ll take on a five-loss Northern Illinois team out of the MAC in the Poinsettia Bowl. Boise State opened as a large -8 point favorite at 5 Dimes Sportsbook for the Game in San Diego.
Northern Illinois was in this bowl Game two years ago with a 12-1 record, yet still lost to a five-loss Utah State team by seven points. The Huskies had some good wins this year at Toledo and against Western Michigan — and even some good losses (seven-point loss at Ohio State — but down the stretch this team just wasn’t the same with backup quarterbacks. They lost to Ohio in the regular season finale and then had no chance against Bowling Green with their third-string QB in the MAC title Game.
Original starter Drew Hare is still out, but his backup Ryan Graham may be able to go. If not, freshman Tommy Fiedler will once again get the call under center. He went 12-of-28 for one TD and 3 INTs against a subpar Bowling Green defense.
However, Boise State’s motivation may be as big of factor. A year after finishing with 12 wins and a Fiesta Bowl win, the Broncos were filled with seniors outside of the most important position at quarterback. That led to an 8-4 record with surprising late season home losses to New Mexico and Air Force. They beat one team with a winning record all season and that was at Colorado State back in early October.
That said, it’s still hard to see Northern Illinois pulling out a win if Fiedler is forced to start another Game. Even if Graham starts, this offense won’t reach the same levels as earlier in the season with Drew Hare. The Huskies scored 33 points per Game for the season, but it’s safe to throw that number out the window. They’ll aim to run as much as possible with Joel Bouagnon (1,269 yards, 18 TDs), but also whoever is at quarterback. Bouagnon hasn’t done much with either backup quarterback, totaling 164 yards and one touchdown total in the last three Games. Receiver Kenny Golladay has been great (1,122 yards, 10 TDs), but he had just one catch for 15 yards in the MAC title Game.
The only way Northern Illinois can win this Game is if it’s low scoring. They’ll try and hold a Boise State offense down that has been more efficient than expected this season.
Freshman Brett Rypien took over at quarterback a few Games into the season and he’s done well for the most part, throwing for 17 TDs and 7 INTs, although six of those interceptions came in two losses. Northern Illinois has played good defense this year, but not good enough to hold down the Broncos.
Rypien has found receiver Thomas Sperbeck (1,334 yards, 8 TDs) more often than not as the two connected a total of 30 times in back-to-back Games a month ago. However, that may not be needed if Jeremy McNichols can get going on the ground. McNichols has filled in well for graduated Jay Ajayi this season with 1,244 yards and 18 TDs. McNichols has at least 100 yards and a touchdown in seven straight Games. NIU was absolutely gashed by Bowling Green on the ground last Game and Boise could do the same here.
It’s going to take a monumental effort for Northern Illinois to pull off an upset here. Make sure to check on their QB status before throwing money on the Game. Starting receiver Tommylee Lewis is also questionable to play and he’s missed the last two.
The Broncos have covered in five straight against the MAC, while the under is 6-1 in the last seven Games for the Huskies against a team with a winning record.
Our Pick – Northern Illinois +8.5