The Poinsettia Bowl is an annual post-Christmas tradition, and this year the game will feature a pair of very different, mid-major teams vying for a spot in the national spotlight. The Utah State Aggies (8-5) of the Mountain West Conference, built on defense, and the 23rd ranked Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1) of the Mid-American Conference and led by a dynamic offense, will meet on Thursday night (9:30 pm ET) at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, CA. Utah St. lost the Mountain West Championship Game to then-23rd ranked Fresno St. 24-17 to end the regular season, but prior to that the Aggies won 5 straight to rebound from a 3-4 start and the loss of star quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Northern Illinois lost the MAC Championship Game 47-27 to Bowling Green, and lost their chance at securing a spot in a BCS bowl game. The Huskies and Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch still managed to defeat two Big 10 teams in Iowa (30-27 in week 1) and Purdue (55-24 in week 5) and climb as high a s14th in the national rankings.
Utah St. ranks 60th among FBS teams in total offense with 420.9 yards per game and 44th in scoring offense with 32.6 points per game. Quarterback Darell Garretson took over for an injured Keeton, and threw for 1,325 yards with 9 TDs and 5 INTs, but does not provide the running skills that Keeton brought to the table. Running back Joey DeMartino (1,078 yards rushing, 12 TDs) was the leading rusher for the Aggies, and wide receivers Travis Reynolds (832 yards, 4 TDs) and Travis Van Leeuwen (638 yards, 3 TDs) were both productive aerial threats. The Aggies rank 12th among FBS teams in total defense with 332.1 YPG allowed and 7th in points allowed with 17.3 per game.
Northern Illinois ranks 5th among FBS teams in total offense with 535.5 yards per game and 8th in scoring offense with 41.6 points per game. Lynch, a top dual-threat QB, threw for 2,676 yards and 23 TDs while running for 1,881 yards (an FBS quarterback record) and 22 scores. Running back Cameron Stingly (1,081 yards rushing, 9 TDs) and wide receivers Da’Ron Brown (689 yards, 9 TDs) and Tommylee Lewis (660 yards, 3 TDs) compliment the considerable skills of Lynch. . The Huskies rank 90th among FBS teams in total defense with 424.5 YPG allowed and 55th in scoring defense with 25.4 PPG allowed.
Utah St. vs. NIU Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
Utah State Aggies +1.5
@ NIU Huskies -1.5
Over 58 (-110)
Under 58 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Utah St. vs NIU Pick
Utah St. is playing in its 3rd consecutive bowl game. The Aggies are 8-5 ATS this season and 1-3 ATS as an underdog. The total has come in UNDER in 4 of their last 5 games. NIU is also 8-5 ATS this season, and 7-5 ATS as a favorite. The total has come in OVER in 4 of their last 6 games.
Lynch and NIU had their hands full with a top ten Bowling Green defense, and will face a similar test with Utah St. who boasts a strong defense of their own. The Aggies did, however allow 24 points in a loss to Fresno State, who possesses the #1 passing offense in the country and a below average defense. NIU has made their name on offense and Lynch will be looking to avenge an embarrassing loss to Bowling Green and end his career on a high note. NIU also suits up a much better defensive unit than the Bulldogs, and should be able to handle the backup QB Garretson. Take the Huskies here in what should be a close game.