Northern Illinois - Regardless of what records and results say, this is the best team in the MAC. After the first-game disaster that was DeMarcus Grady, coach Jerry kill switched from one junior to another with excellent results. Chandler Harnish finished the year accounting for just shy of 3,000 yards of offense and 25 touchdowns combined rushing and passing. Then Kill went and got his gallbladder removed, which almost killed him (does that even count as a pun?), but got back in time to see his team fall 33 seconds short of not losing again. Chad Spann was another pleasant surprise, setting a new school record for single season rushing touchdowns (20) and racking up almost 1,300 yards.
So here we are. Northern Illinois begins their season with a lot of high hopes, and they wake up this week to one less (in terms of both wins and coaches) than they expected. Fresno State showed their weakness by frittering away a good 6-2 start by finishing the year with an 0-3 record against ranked teams (who were also their only three opponents with a winning record). Granted, it isn't like either of these teams would have seen their bowl game improve a lot with another win, but both teams have to be a bit disappointed. Follow along after the jump to see where we think this bowl is going.
Of course, I now come to the most important part of this bowl game - Jerry Kill, as you well know by now, accepted the head coaching job at Minnesota, only fair after he beat them soundly back in September. However, can the team manage to survive two big blows? They have to first figure out what went wrong in the MAC title game, then how much to fix for the bowl game, then whether they are going to change anything at all in terms of personnel or scheme...all unlikely, but the mere possibility is enough to make your head spin.
Fresno State - Sophomore running back Robbie Rouse was quite a revelation. No, really, all alliteration aside (HA!) the Bulldogs may have something here. He wasn't unstoppable, but he did post 769 yards and 7 TD's in a span of four games in the middle of the season. Senior QB Ryan Colburn wasn't too shabby either, improving by a step in every major statistical category compared to his junior year. Then again, his struggles mirrored the team's: 6-for-23 for 76 yards and 2 INTs against Boise, 19-for-37 for 258 yards, one TD and 3 INTs against Hawaii. When the big game showed up, Colburn didn't.
Don't get it twisted though, the offense wasn't the issue, the defense was. The only team to score fewer than two touchdowns against them was New Mexico State, and five teams scored at least four touchdowns. Fresno may have landed half of their defensive line on ESPN's All-Conference squad, but if they don't get pressure...watch out.
Prediction - The Huskies are a very good team who need to recover from a couple of unfortunate setbacks. The Bulldogs on the other hand are a mediocre team who couldn't handle any of the good offenses they played (and really struggled with running QB's). This game will likely look like the MAC Championship was predicted to look.
Northern Illinois 42, Fresno State 23