|Kansas RB Tony Pierson, who has been the star of KU's offense, is fourth in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game. (AP)|
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Spread: Northern Illinois by 9
Watchability: A year ago this was about the only game that Kansas fans enjoyed watching. It featured a last-second touchdown pass from Jordan Webb (now losing at Colorado) for a 45-42 KU win. That was the last time KU beat an FBS school. Now the Jayhawks are trying to get their first road win since Sept. 12, 2009 at UTEP, and even though they are 9-point underdogs, this is about as good a chance as KU will get the rest of the season. So if you're a KU fan, tune in.
Shining stars: Kansas: RB Tony Pierson. A light bulb went off in Charlie Weis' head last week. Pierson is his best weapon; it made sense to get him involved in the passing game. So for the first time this year, Pierson caught a pass (six of them, in fact) and led KU with 99 receiving yards. He also leads the Jayhawks with 270 rushing yards at 5.8 yards per carry. If anything, KU is not giving Pierson enough touches -- he has 48 rushing attempts in three games. Northern Illinois: QB Jordan Lynch. Lynch took over this season for four-year starter Chandler Harnish, the final pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. Similar to Harnish, Lynch is a dual-threat QB; however, Harnish was a more gifted passer -- he threw for 3,216 yards last season. Lynch has run for 304 yards and five touchdowns in addition to passing for 610 yards, another five TDs and two interceptions. For a point of reference for Big 12 fans, he's looking like the MAC's version of K-State QB Collin Klein.
Who could steal the show: Kansas: S Bradley McDougald. The Kansas defense is still giving up a lot of yards -- TCU put up 487 last week -- but the Jayhawks are making up for their bend-but-don't-break approach by forcing turnovers. They're tied with Alabama and Mississippi State for the NCAA lead with 12 turnovers forced, and McDougald has accounted for a team-best four -- two forced fumbles (both against TCU) and two interceptions. Lynch will want to keep an eye out for where No. 24 is on the field. Northern Illinois: WR Martel Moore. The Huskies might want to consider throwing the ball more against KU after they watch film from last week, when the Jayhawks surrendered 335 yards through the air. Their best weapon in the passing game is Moore, who has caught 15 passes for 229 yards and three TDs. Last year against KU, Moore had four catches for 45 yards and a TD.
You going? Ranking the road trip: Huskie Stadium holds only 24,000, but Northern Illinois has the best home-field advantage in the MAC. The Huskies have won 16 straight at home and the stadium should be rocking for a Big 12 school that knocked off the Huskies last year in a game they feel let slip away.
Magic number for Kansas: 486. That's the number of yards Army ran for against Northern Illinois last week in a 41-40 Army loss. Army ran it 86 times, and the Jayhawks will put it in the air more than four times. Kansas has relied on its passing game too often late in games in the last two losses and would be well served to run more against NIU.
Magic number for Northern Illinois: 8 of 9. The Huskies were 8 of 9 last week converting on third down. They were 6 of 15 in their 19-18 loss to Iowa. Whether they can keep the chains moving could be the difference.
The game comes down to: KU's offense. Northern Illinois is going to move the ball and going to put up points. Last year, the Jayhawks were able to keep up and won in a shootout. QB Dayne Crist has struggled to complete enough passes to sustain drives -- he has a Big 12-worst 50.5 completion percentage. For the Jayhawks to win, Crist will need to be better -- and relying on the running game could help. KU does get a boost with last year's leading rusher James Sims returning from suspension.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 38, Kansas 34
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big 12 bloggers C.J. Moore and Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsBig12 on Twitter. You can also follow C.J. (@cjmoore4) and Patrick (@patricksouthern).