South Florida (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois (7-5):
Jan. 2, Noon (ESPN2)
South Florida take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: Suppose you would have asked South Florida back on Sept. 26, just hours after it scored a potentially program-changing victory at Florida State in Tallahassee, where the Bulls would end up bowling.
I bet you could have polled all 85 scholarship players and not found a single one who would have said in Toronto against a 7-5 MAC team.
Such, however, is the state of South Florida, a program that never wins enough after strong starts to matter much in the end. The Bulls won just twice after Oct. 3 and thus earned the Big East's version of a postseason banishment: Canada.
Head coach Jim Leavitt's first order of business will be to get his players excited about such an assignment and convince them that Northern Illinois is dangerous. The Huskies, after all, beat Purdue and gave Wisconsin a battle on the road earlier this year and have a strong rushing attack.
Still, there's little to suggest that Northern Illinois can keep up athletically with the Bulls, who have future pros like George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul on defense, electric boom-or-bust quarterback B.J. Daniels and a fleet of fast receivers. With proper motivation and focus, South Florida should be the heavy favorite in this game.
But that's assuming a lot for a team that too many times comes out flat emotionally. And that's why a promising start to the year is ending in Toronto for the Bulls.
Northern Illinois take by Independents and Others blogger Graham Watson: For the first time in school history, Northern Illinois will play a bowl game in back-to-back seasons. This is only the sixth overall bowl for the Huskies, and head coach Jerry Kill, who is in his second season, is responsible for two of them.
Northern Illinois finished second in the Mid-American Conference West behind league champion Central Michigan. The Huskies seven wins are the most since 2006 and that included a 28-21 win over Purdue, the school’s second-ever win over a Big Ten school.
Northern Illinois has spent most of the season dealing with injuries. Starting quarterback Chandler Harnish missed significant time and backup DeMarcus Grady put the Huskies in a position to play for a division championship.
The strength of Northern Illinois is its running game. The Huskies have a one-two punch in Chad Spann and Me'co Brown. The two have combined for 1,590 yards and Spann has accounted for 19 rushing touchdowns. Spann’s 20 total touchdowns give him the most points in the MAC.
The Huskies’ rushing attack should be able to find some daylight against South Florida, which allows 137.75 rushing yards per game.
The Northern Illinois defense will have a challenge against dual-threat quarterback B.J. Daniels, who leads the team in both passing and rushing. He is the bulk of the Bulls offense and will be a point of emphasis for the Huskies’ defense.