Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NCF Nation [Print without images]

Thursday, December 26, 2013
Poinsettia Bowl preview

By Austin Ward


A glance at Thursday night’s San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl showdown between No. 23 Northern Illinois (12-1) and Utah State (8-5), as both programs try to bounce back from losses with a bowl victory at Qualcomm Stadium (TV: ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET).

Who to watch: There are no more Heisman Trophy voters for Jordan Lynch to impress after a third-place finish, but he has one more opportunity for another memorable performance with the Huskies before moving on to the next level. The senior quarterback’s numbers are already eye-popping enough -- 1,881 rushing yards and 2,676 through the air -- and his 45 combined touchdowns have helped the Northern Illinois offense average 41.6 points per game. After a disappointing loss in the MAC title game, Lynch shouldn’t be hurting for motivation as he looks to go out on top against the Aggies.

What to watch: The Aggies have seen their share of prolific scoring attacks and dangerous quarterbacks this season, and more often than not, they’ve found a way to slow them down. Utah State ranks seventh in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 17.3 points per game and holding opponents to fewer than 10 on five occasions. Had the Aggies been able to score a bit more often, this season might have been even more special -- they held USC to 17 points and Fresno State to 24 but lost both games. Senior linebacker Jake Doughty, in particular, will be critical to slowing down Lynch, and he’s proved to be more than capable of chasing down any target this season, with 140 total tackles.

Why to watch: The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl has put together some of the most entertaining matchups in the past few years, and that has provided some wildly entertaining, competitive games. With a Heisman finalist, one of the best defenses in the country and a prime-time broadcast slot all to itself, there’s no reason to skip this one.

Prediction: Utah State 24, Northern Illinois 23