Chandler Harnish (12) leads the Huskies offense in passing and rushing and will be the key for Northern Illinois's chances in the Bowl, (Carlos Osorio / AP) Bowl-Northern Illinois vs Arkansas State-pick and analysis

The last bowl before the championship game features 2 of the hottest teams in the country. Bot schools are from smaller conferences, and both dominated in conference play. They’ll both be trying to get a win on the big stage and increase the notoriety of their program which should result in a great game to wrap up our Sunday filled with the NFL Playoffs.

The Bowl kicks off tonight at 9:00 Eastern in Mobile, Alabama and it’ll be a dogfight with the Northern Illinois Huskies bringing their prodigious passing attack against the Arkansas Red Wolves solid defense and good offense of their own.

Bowl Breakdown:

When two teams are 14-0 since October 1, there’s plenty to like about them. Both schools destroyed their conferences with Arkansas State going undefeated 8-0 while Northern Illinois lost to Central Michigan in their opener before rolling through the other 7 games on the conference schedule.

Both schools have great dual-threat QBs and extremely effective offenses. Northern Illinois is led by Sr. QB Chandler Harnish who had a career high in yards passing and should finish over 3,000 with a good game Sunday. Harnish also is a threat on the ground, rushing for over 1,300 yards. He had 37 total TD’s and led the offense to an average of 38.3 points per game which ranked 13th overall in the country. 

It’s a good thing that the offense was so high-scoring since the NIU defense gave up 31.1 points a game which ranked 89th overall. The defense gave up 25 points or more 8 times but the offense was able to win 5 of those contests including the memorable 63-60 game over Toledo in primetime Tuesday night, November 1st. The NIU defense has played better lately, holding opponents to 12 and 20 in their last 2 games. In their last game, the MAC Championship against Ohio (remember them, they won the Idaho Potato Bowl at the very beginning of the bowl season), Ohio took a 20-0 lead into halftime, but the NIU defense limited Ohio to just 74 yards of total offense and no points while the offense came back and won 23-20.

Arkansas State hasn’t needed a comeback like that the last 6 games as their offense has scored over 30 points in each of those games and in their last 5 has put multiple scores on the board in the first quarter. The leader of this potent offense is their own dual-threat QB, Jr. Ryan Aplin. Aplin has over 3,000 yards and rushed for 600 with 27 total touchdowns. His leading receiver is Sr. playmaker, Dwayne Frampton with 6 TDs and over 110o yards.

Ryan Aplin was named the Sun Belt offensive player of the year, but he wasn’t alone in his postseason accolades, as Sr. DE Brandon Joiner earned the conference’s defensive player of the year award with 12 sacks. He led the 14th ranked defense in points allowed averaging just under 20 points-a-game. Joiner will be chasing Harnish all day long.

This game shaped up to be a good prelude to the championship. Northern Illinois has the slightly better offense, but Arkansas State has the better defense. With both of these teams averaging over 30 it’s possible this game could get very high-scoring very quickly. NIU played the 63-60 game against Toledo earlier this year, and this one has the potential to get that crazy with these to red-hot offenses. I don’t see it getting quite that insane, but I think that Northern Illinois will win and the final will be 48-35.  I’m going with the Huskies because their schedule was a little bit tougher, the team got some positive bowl experience last year (Ark St hasn’t been bowling since 2005, the only one in school history), and the turnover in the Arkansas St. coaching staff (head coach Hugh Freeze left for Mississippi). NIU is a slight underdog, but I think they’ll pull out the win for the MAC behind  Harnish, the MAC offensive player of the year.

Pro Prospects

Chandler Harnish-NIU-QB: Although Harnish is going to get Tebow comparisons, his arm strength and passing ability is far beyond Tebow’s. He’s a tough player who gives you the dual threat, but looks to be a little more polished coming out of school. Obviously, the MAC isn’t quite the SEC, so some teams will shy away due to the quality of the competition he’s been crushing. He could end up as high as the 2nd round if he excels in pre-draft workouts and Sr. Bowls. He’s more likely to be taken in the 3rd or maybe even the 4th round as a “developmental” QB.

Brandon Joiner-Ark St-DE: Joiner had a great year, and will try to find a home in the NFL either at the end of the draft or as a undrafted FA.

Kelcie McCray-Ark St-S: McCray is a top ten Strong Safety in this year’s draft. He’ll probably go in the 6th or 7th round depending on his pre-draft work.




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