- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Fresno State returns to Boise, Idaho, the scene of one of the most humiliating losses in school history, a 51-0 shellacking earlier in the season at the hands of Boise State. But hey, at least the Broncos will be in Las Vegas this time. The Bulldogs go to the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl to face Northern Illinois, a team that lost head coach Jerry Kill and both coordinators to Minnesota. Interim coach Tom Matukewicz leads the way for the Huskies, who are coming off a heartbreaking loss to Miami (Ohio) in the MAC championship game.
WHO TO WATCH: Northern Illinois running back Chad Spann. It is not oversimplifying to say how Northern Illinois goes depends on how Spann goes. Early in the season, the run game sputtered and Northern Illinois sputtered. Then in the MAC title game, Spann only had 54 yards rushing, and the favored Huskies ended up losing. Still, Spann was MAC Player of the Year for a reason. The Huskies still have one of the best rushing offenses in the nation, ranking No. 7, and Fresno State has had problems stopping the run at times. Quarterback Chandler Harnish has contributed there as well.
WHAT TO WATCH: How Northern Illinois responds. This has been a difficult three-week stretch for the Huskies. They went into the MAC title game with a Top 25 ranking and a nine-game winning streak, but they were uncharacteristically pushed around on the offensive line. They lost with 33 seconds left in the game. Then Kill left, and many players found out about his departure through text messages and social networking sites – before Kill had a chance to tell them in person. We will see how much that double whammy impacts their focus in this one.
WHY TO WATCH: One of the best pass-rushers in the nation makes this game one to watch. Fresno State defensive end Chris Carter had 11 sacks this season, tied for seventh in the country, and was the WAC Defensive Player of the Year. He is going to be a huge key in trying to pressure Harnish, who can get rattled easily in the pass game. Teammate Logan Harrell also had 10.5 sacks, making them the top pass-rushing duo in the nation.
PREDICTION: Fresno State 28, Northern Illinois 20. The Bulldogs are going to be helped by a healthier Robbie Rouse, who broke his hand against Boise State. I also think they will be able to control both lines of scrimmage.