Poinsettia Bowl: Preview, Predictions, TV info

By Tony Moss | Senior Editor

What: San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

Who: Northern Illinois (12-1, 8-0 Mid-American) vs. Utah State (8-5, 7-1 Mountain West)

When: Thursday, Dec. 26, 9:30 pm ET (ESPN)

Where: Qualcomm Stadium (66,000), San Diego

Opening Line: Northern Illinois -1 1/2

What matters: Northern Illinois will try to wash off the stain of its surprising loss to Bowling Green in the MAC title game, a defeat that cost NIU a shot at an undefeated season and a possible second straight berth in a BCS game. A win here would give the Huskies their third bowl victory since 2010, and first since beating Arkansas State in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl. Utah State, which saw its rally fall short against Fresno State in the Mountain West title game, is seeking a second straight bowl win after routing Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl a season ago. The Aggies have never won back-to-back bowl games in their history.

Who matters: NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, the nation's second-leading rusher who has accounted for 45 TDs via the ground and air this season, will try to cap off a fantastic career on a high note. Lynch needs 119 rushing yards to become the first player in NCAA history to rush and pass for 2,000 yards in the same season. Utah State's QB situation is less stable. Star Chuckie Keeton was lost for the year to a knee injury in October, and his replacement, true freshman Darell Garretson, was knocked out against Fresno after a helmet-to-helmet hit. If Garretson can't return, third-stringer Craig Harrison would likely get the call.

Matchup question: Can a Utah State team that is 12th in the country in total defense, and a Top 10 unit against the run, give Lynch problems? As Bowling Green showed, when you limit Lynch on the ground the Huskies are a very different team.

Prediction: Utah State brings a quality defense to San Diego, but with its shaky QB situation and the emotion that will carry NIU into Lynch's final game, it's hard to imagine the Huskies walking away without a win here. Northern Illinois 31, Utah State 17.

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