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In the second bowl game of the year, the Humanitarian Bowl will kick it off on the Smurf Turf in Boise. The Fresno State Bulldogs are very familiar with this field, playing here every other season against the Boise State Broncos, but this will be a new location for the Northern Illinois Huskies, who have a lot of new things to try to break into before the end of the weekend. These two teams are knotted right down the middle in the eyes of the oddsmakers, but we have our college football picks for the game that can sort of which team should be favored.
Humanitarian Bowl Matchup: Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Fresno State Bulldogs
Date: Saturday, December 18th, 5:30 ET
Location: Bronco Stadium, Boise, ID
Humanitarian Bowl Line: Northern Illinois -1
Huskies Notes: The poor Huskies are going to have their work cut out for them just to get up the energy to play in this bowl game. This is clearly the less desirable location for the bowl, especially after losing the MAC Championship Game in stunning fashion to the Miami Redhawks. On top of that, right after the game, Head Coach Jerry Kill up and left the program, heading for the Minnesota Golden Gophers instead. That leaves linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz in charge until this one is over. The good news for NIU is that it really could still be classified as "on a roll," knowing that it had gone 8-0 SU and 7-0-1 ATS in conference play before the dud at Ford Field. This is clearly a team that is either a product of a weak MAC or is just that darn good. We tend to believe that the Huskies belong ranked in the Top 25 in the country, even with three losses. The defensive numbers definitely suggest that, as this team ranks No. 28 in the land overall at 328.2 yards per game and is No. 29 and No. 35 against the rush and pass respectively. No 'D' in this conference allowed fewer points per game than did NIU at 19.1, and the only team to score in the 30s against it all season long were the Toledo Rockets… who promptly gave up 65 points on that same night. Offensively, this is one of those teams in the land that is averaging over 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game, and the end result is a tremendously balanced attack in which you never really know what's coming. QB Chandler Harnish should be putting on a real display in the Humanitarian Bowl. He threw for 2,230 yards and just five INTs this season, and he rushed for another 764 yards. The junior accounted for 25 TDs on the year. However, he would be nowhere without his top rusher, RB Chad Spann. Spann is clearly where this offense starts and finishes most of the time. He has toted the rock a whopping 243 times for 1,293 yards with 20 scores, making him one of the best scorers in the country.
Bulldogs Notes: The Bulldogs might not have the same type of offensive or defensive numbers that the Huskies do, but NIU also didn't play teams like the Boise State Broncos, Nevada Wolf Pack, and Hawaii Warriors either. The WAC was downright tough this year, and save those three games, there was no doubt that this was the best team amongst the rest in this conference. Fresno absolutely was a decided bowl bound team from the start, and unlike NIU, there is no doubt that it is going to love to be here in Boise with a chance to redeem itself from the beat down suffered on the Smurf Turf at the hands of the Broncos. The best news that Head Coach Pat Hill has to work with in this one is that his top runner, RB Robbie Rouse should be back in the fold after his injured ribs kept him out of the final two games of the regular season. There were just no runners that could do what Rouse did on a regular basis for the Bulldogs this year, as he rushed for 1,097 yards and ten scores, and he had a pair of 200+ yards performances in a row before getting hurt to boot. The play of QB Ryan Colburn has been okay, but not fantastic this year. Colburn threw for 2,529 yards and 21 TDs, numbers which are solid, but not amazing. His nine picks were acceptable, but at times, he really did look like a deer in headlights, especially against Boise State. The problem that the Dogs had this year was that they really didn't play very well against teams going to bowl games. There is only one win, a 25-23 'W' over the Illinois Fighting Illini, and the 'D' allowed at least 35 points in each of the other three games in the WAC. Still, that unit held teams to just 342.7 yards per game this year, and that number was right around 300 yards per game if you take out the biggies in the WAC.
The Final Word: We just love what Fresno State is bringing to the table here. The last time the Bulldogs played a team with a crazy offense like this on the ground, they nearly upset the Nevada Wolf Pack. This is just not a very good matchup for NIU, and its lack of heart and energy after getting everything sucked out of it over the course of the last two weeks or so is going to prove to be too much to overcome. Hill's team gets the job done and wraps up another solid season.
Humanitarian Bowl Free Pick: Fresno State +1
Humanitarian Bowl Prediction: Fresno State 31 – Northern Illinois 21