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No. 23 NIU faces Utah State Thursday in San Diego
By: Mark Kern - StatFox
Published: 12/26/2013  at  4:43:00 AM
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NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES (12-1)
vs. UTAH STATE AGGIES (8-5)

Poinsettia Bowl
Qualcomm Stadium - San Diego, CA
Kickoff: Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET
Line: Even, Total: 57.5

Jordan Lynch closes out his excellent career Thursday when he leads No. 24 Northern Illinois against a very stingy Utah State defense at the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.

The Huskies (12-1 SU, 8-5 ATS) appeared to be on their way to another BCS bowl appearance before falling to underdog Bowling Green 47-27 in the MAC championship. Senior QB Jordan Lynch was a Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing the regular season with 2,676 passing yards, 23 TD and 7 INT, while also rushing for 1,881 yards (6.9 YPC) and 22 touchdowns. Northern Illinois is on quite an impressive run, going 33-3 SU in its past 36 games, and its offense has been terrific all season (41.6 PPG, 9th in FBS), but will face a very difficult defense in the Aggies. When star QB Chuckie Keeton went down with a knee injury, Utah State appeared to be in jeopardy of missing a bowl game. However, the defense continued to play terrific, as they rank seventh in the country in scoring defense with just 17.3 PPG allowed. Freshman QB Darell Garretson (1,325 pass yards, 7.4 YPA, 9 TD, 5 INT) has stepped into the quarterback position admirably, but he struggled in the team's 24-17 loss in the Mountain West championship, completing just 12-of-26 passes for 198 yards, 0 TD and 1 INT. The Aggies have been resilient though, going 7-0 ATS in road games after an SU loss in the past three seasons, but the Huskies are 8-1 ATS after allowing 325+ passing yards in their last game in this same timeframe.

Can Northern Illinois send Jordan Lynch out with another victory? For the answer, connect to College Football Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013-14 bowl season. The four experts finished the regular season a collective 51.1% ATS (120-115-7) on college football Best Bets, led by StatFox Dave's stellar 57% ATS (35-25-2) mark. This included a 64% ATS (23-13-2) record in his final 11 weeks. StatFox Gary was 2-1 ATS in the final week to finish 53% ATS (21-19-1) in the regular season. Gary was 56% ATS (20-16-1) in college football Best Bets since Week 3. StatFox Brian also finished strong with a 3-1 ATS mark on Best Bets in Championship Week, giving him his fourth straight winning season of college football Best Bets at 52% ATS (33-30-1). StatFox Scott is looking to repeat a huge 2012-13 bowl season, when he posted a 71% ATS mark in Best Bets (5-2-1).

Northern Illinois is playing in a bowl game for the sixth straight season and before losing big in last season's Orange Bowl (31-10 to Florida State), the Huskies won two straight bowls by a combined score of 78 to 37. They have been able to score at least 27 points in all 13 games this season, thanks to the nation's fourth-ranked rushing attack (312.5 YPG). While QB Jordan Lynch gets all of the hype for his 351 total YPG of offense (4th in nation), and 89 total touchdowns in the past two seasons, he is not the only Huskies player that is able to run the ball well. Junior RB Cameron Stingily (1,081 rush yards, 5.6 YPC, 9 TD) is able to take over the game on the ground as well, rushing for 266 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Kent State early in the season. With so many defenses focusing on Lynch, Stingily is a great complement with his power rushing ability. When Lynch looks to pass, junior WR Tommylee Lewis (80 catches, 660 yards, 3 TD) is his main target to move the chains, while junior WR Da'Ron Brown (689 rec. yards, 9 TD) is the big-play threat with 16.4 yards per reception. While the offense has been terrific, the defense has had its struggles, ranking 55th FBS in scoring defense (25.4 PPG) and giving up 424 total YPG. Northern Illinois allows 150 rushing YPG on 3.9 YPC, while giving up 274 passing YPG on 7.3 YPA. Senior S Jimmie Ward is the leader of the defense, tallying 89 tackles and six interceptions. This defensive unit may be a key, as the Huskies may struggle to score against the Aggies.

Utah State's defense has been great all season, especially on the ground where it allows a mere 107 rushing YPG on 2.8 YPC. In the past three games, opponents have scored just 10.3 PPG on 278 total YPG (3.8 yards per play), a stretch that includes high-powered Fresno State and a Colorado State team that just scored 48 points in the New Mexico Bowl. Sophomore LB Kyler Fackrell has been the leader, compiling 77 tackles, five sacks and a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown. While the defense has been the calling card for Utah State, the offense does have some very talented players. The Aggies rank 45th in the nation in scoring (32.6 PPG) and 53rd in passing (242 YPG). Those are not the most impressive numbers, but they could have been much worse if freshman QB Darell Garretson hadn't filled in so nicely for star QB Chuckie Keeton who got hurt in the sixth game of the season. Utah State could be without top WR Travis Reynolds (team-high 832 receiving yards), who has missed the past two games with a knee injury and is questionable for Thursday. But the Aggies have great depth in the receiving corps as 11 of Reynolds' teammates have scored a receiving touchdown this season. Senior RB Joey DeMartino (1,078 rush yards, 5.4 YPC, 12 TD) leads the ground attack with six 100-yard rushing games, but he struggled against Fresno State with only 54 yards on 18 carries.

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