Saturday, January 7, 2012
GoDaddy.com Bowl: Northern Illinois (10-3) vs. Arkansas State (10-2)
By Kevin Gemmell
In a bowl season that has already had an insane amount of offense, why not one more before the expected defensive slugfest in the national championship game? Northern Illinois and Arkansas State are two of the hottest teams in the country and both know how to score. Expect mayhem in Mobile, Ala.
Who to watch: Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish is a true, dual-threat, having contributed to 37 touchdowns this season -- 26 in the air and 11 on the ground. The MAC offensive player of the year owns 20 different school records and has six games this season with 100 or more rushing yards this season. He completed 62.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,942 yards and rushing for 1,382. For perspective -- that's more rushing yards in the regular season than Denard Robinson -- and he leads all quarterbacks in rushing.
What to watch: The fireworks, what else? NIU, the MAC champs, ranks 13th nationally in scoring, at 38.3 points per game. The Red Wolves, champions of the Sun Belt, aren't far behind, at 33.5 points per game. But here's the kicker -- Arkansas State has a defense to match, allowing less than 20 points per game on the season. And the Red Wolves don't exactly have a slouch at quarterback. Ryan Aplin, the Sun Belt player of the year, completed 65.6 percent of his passes, and over his past four games, he has eight touchdowns to three interceptions.
Why to watch: Who has the nation's second-longest win streak behind LSU? That's right, Arkansas State. The Red Wolves have won nine in a row. Not far behind are the Huskies, winners of eight straight. This is just one of three non-BCS games that features two 10-win teams. A couple of 10-win teams -- both getting votes in the top 25? The question should be, why not watch?
Prediction: Northern Illinois 38, Arkansas State 31. For the record, this is not a pick I feel great about. These are two very evenly matched teams. But the fact that NIU is playing in its fourth consecutive bowl game and Arkansas State's coaching situations is all over the map makes me lean toward the Huskies in what should be a fantastically entertaining ball game.