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South Florida (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois (7-5)
Saturday, January 2nd, 12:00 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: For the fifth straight season the South Florida Bulls will participate in a bowl game when they take on the Northern Illinois Huskies in the International Bowl at the Rogers Centre.
The Bulls have been a part of the BCS for five seasons, and all five years the team has made it to a bowl game, including this season. The four previous postseason appearances for South Florida were split evenly at 2-2, and obviously that includes the team's 41-14 romp over Memphis last season in the St. Petersburg bowl. The Bulls charged out of the gates this season, winning their first five matchups, including a 17-7 decision on the road against Florida State. However, the team started to show cracks in the armor and finished out the year with five setbacks in its last seven games.
The Huskies opened this season with a tough, 28-20 loss to Wisconsin, but the team rebounded with wins in three of its next four contests, including an impressive 28-21 victory at Purdue. After a one-point loss to Toledo, the Huskies regrouped and racked up four consecutive victories. However, the team stumbled down the stretch, dropping its last two regular season contests against Ohio (38-31) and Central Michigan (45-31). Despite the late collapse the Huskies finished 7-5 overall and were invited to their second straight bowl game and third in the last four seasons. Unfortunately the team suffered losses in their past two bowls games, including a 17-10 loss to Louisiana Tech in last season's Independence Bowl.
The all-time series between the two schools on the gridiron is tied at 1-1. The last time NIU and South Florida collided was in 2002 when the Bulls grabbed a convincing, 37-6 decision over the Huskies.
The Bulls are not overwhelming offensively, but the team does possess a well balanced attack which has led to a respectable 26.4 ppg. The ground game is churning out 169.4 ypg, but the team's top performer on the ground is quarterback B.J. Daniels, who has rushed for 798 yards and nine scores on 4.9 yards per attempt. Daniels took over for star QB Matt Grothe, who went down with a knee injury early on. Daniels received help in the backfield by Moise Plancher and Mike Ford, who combined for 813 rushing yards and both players scored five touchdowns apiece on the year. Daniels was not as impressive with his arm, completing just 52.7 percent of his throws for 1,766 yards and 12 touchdowns against nine interceptions. There was not a single player on the roster with over 35 receptions, which further proves the inconsistency of the passing attack. Carlton Mitchell led the way for South Florida with 34 receptions and finished the year with 612 yards and four touchdowns. Dontavia Bogan also collected four touchdown receptions, but finished the season with just 305 yards on 22 catches.
The reason the Bulls are playing in a bowl game this season is largely due to the performance of the defense, which is limiting opponents to just 21.2 ppg. South Florida did have minor problems against the run, allowing 137.8 ypg on the season, but this unit really enjoyed success against the pass, holding teams to just 191.0 ypg through the air. South Florida also collected 12 interceptions on the season, and also put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, grabbing 24 sacks on the year. The Bulls also stepped up their efforts when it mattered most, as the team held opponents to just 40 percent on third down attempts and allowed just 20 touchdowns on 40 red zone chances. There are plenty of playmakers on this side of the football for South Florida, beginning with Kion Wilson, who led the team with 98 tackles. Nate Allen added 79 stops and collected a team-high four interceptions, while Jason Pierre- Paul led the squad with 14.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks. Former All-American rush end George Selvie (40 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks) has had a quiet year, but must also be accounted for up front at all times.
The Huskies have a simple game plan on offense and that is to run the ball early and often. Northern Illinois relied heavily throughout the season on its ground attack, rushing for 202.4 ypg on 4.9 yards per attempt. The Huskies, who are averaging an impressive 30.8 ppg on the season, scored 27 of their 41 offensive touchdowns on the ground this season. Me'co Brown started the season has the main tailback for NIU, and rushed for 645 yards and four scores, but eventually he had to make way for Chad Spann, who closed out the regular season with 945 yards and 19 touchdowns. The success of the ground game overshadowed the team's inability to find production through the air, as Northern Illinois posted just 151.7 ypg via the pass. Chandler Harnish has completed an impressive 66.2 percent of his throws, but it has gone for just 1,540 yards and 11 scores against five interceptions. There is not a game- changing receiver on the roster for NIU, but when Harnish needs a big play he usually looks towards Landon Cox, who led the team with 44 receptions, 528 yards and four scores.
Often overlooked due to the success of the NIU offense, is the play of the defense, which held the opposition to just 21.2 ppg on the season. Northern Illinois was very stingy against the run all season, holding teams to just 119.0 ypg on 3.7 yards per attempt. However, not everything was easy for this unit, as the Huskies did have some issues against the pass, allowing 204.6 ypg and 16 touchdowns via the pass. While the team has trouble stopping the pass, the defense for NIU had no problems getting to the quarterback, as the Huskies recorded 29 sacks on the season. Seven and a half of those sacks came from Jake Coffman, who also grabbed 12.5 TFLs on the year. Brandon Bice and Sean Progar added five sacks apiece on the season, while Tracy Wilson led the team with 86 tackles.
The Bulls might have some problems stopping Spann and company, but overall South Florida is a much better team on both sides of the football and should be able to claim a victory over Northern Illinois.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Florida 26, Northern Illinois 17
12/30 10:41:33 ET