Utah State Aggies (8-5) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1)
Dec. 26, 9:30 p.m. ET, San Diego (ESPN)
UTAH STATE AGGIES BREAKDOWN
Utah State's 8-5 finish, which included a berth opposite Fresno State in the Mountain West Conference championship game, was pretty impressive under first-year coach Matt Wells considering outstanding quarterback Chuckie Keeton was lost for the season to a knee injury in the season's sixth game against BYU.
With Keeton hurt, the Aggies found themselves at 3-3 after a loss to Boise State on Oct. 12. Things could have gone rapidly south, but they rolled off five consecutive conference wins with true freshman Darell Garretson stepping in for Keeton and a stingy defense leading the charge.
That defense is the biggest reason for the conference run. It ranked seventh in the nation, yielding just 17.3 points per game. -- Ted Miller
NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES BREAKDOWN
At least Northern Illinois doesn’t have to return to Detroit.
After their dreams for a second straight BCS bowl appearance went bust at Ford Field, the Huskies received a decent bowl trip as they’ll head to San Diego to face Mountain West runner-up Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl. NIU appeared in the 2006 Poinsettia Bowl, when it was smacked by TCU.
Star quarterback Jordan Lynch plays his final collegiate game and boasts a team-record 46 touchdowns (22 rushing, 23 passing, one receiving). He has broken his own record for FBS rushing by a quarterback with 1,881 yards this season.
After struggling against Bowling Green’s top 10 defense, Lynch and the Huskies face another test in Utah State, which ranks 12th nationally in total defense and 10th against the run. -- Adam Rittenberg