Posted by Tom Fornelli
Why You Should Watch: Honestly, unless you're a fan of either Northern Illinois or Fresno State, you probably don't think there is a reason to watch this game. It's understandable, but believe us when we tell you there are a few reasons to watch. First of all, it's been a few weeks since you've had any college football to watch, so it's time to take care of your fix. Second, while these two teams may not be headliners, the matchup promises to be interesting.
Keys to Victory for Northern Illinois: Obviously things will be a bit different for Northern Illinois during the bowl game. The Huskies are coming off of a loss to Miami (OH) in the MAC Championship game, and they've also lost their head coach Jerry Kill to Minnesota since then. Still, with or without their head coach, what Northern Illinois needs to do to win this game is obvious.
Northern has the 7th ranked rushing offense in the country this season behind running back Chad Spann and quarterback Chandler Harnish. Fresno State hasn't been very stellar against the run defense this season, particularly against spread option attacks like the one that Northern Illinois runs. So for the Huskies to pick up the 11th win of the season -- which would be a school record -- they're going to need to keep the ball on the ground, and when the moment presents itself, attack the Fresno secondary deep. Harnish has always been more of a runner, but his passing has improved quite a bit this season, so the Huskies should take advantage of it when they can.
Keys to Victory for Fresno State: The key for Fresno State in Boise will be the men in the trenches. On defense, the line is going to have to remain disciplined, and maintain its assignments to stop the Huskies ground game. It's easier said than done, as Fresno's front four has had problems doing this all season. Still, while Northern can throw a bit, if you take away its run game and force it to throw more than it wants to, you can stop the Huskies offense.
On the other side of the ball, the offensive line will have to protect QB Ryan Colburn. Colburn has a good arm and is a solid quarterback, but he has a tendency to make bad decisions when he's being pressured in the pocket. He tends to force passes when he feels pressure, and against an opportunistic Huskies secondary, this won't work well for the Bulldogs.
The good news for Fresno is that the last few weeks off have given RB Robbie Rouse time to heal from rib and hand injuries he suffered towards the end of the season. What could help Colburn and the offensive line more than anything would be for the team's workhorse to carry the load once again on offense.
The Humanitarian Bowl Is Like: It's like that kid back in grade school that nobody seems to like. He usually sits alone at lunch time, and the other kids think he's weird and nobody ever pays any attention to him. Hell, they don't even make fun of him. Then one day the kid shows up at your house because both your moms go to the same salon and set up some kind of play date, and after you spend they day hanging out with him you realize "Hey, this kid isn't so bad. In fact, he's kind of cool." Of course, you never tell anyone at school about this. You do have a reputation to uphold.