The college football bowl season kicks off Friday with two games, with the latter being the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida. The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers hook up with the Northern Illinois Huskies, champions of the MAC, in a battle between two of the Group of Five's best programs this season.

Northern Illinois is also one of the year's biggest surprises. The Huskies went 0-6 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Thomas Hammock's second year in charge, but rebounded to go 9-4 this season and 6-2 in conference play. They knocked off Kent State in the MAC Championship Game to win their first conference title since 2018 and fifth since 2011. The Huskies rode a prolific rushing attack to their conference title, as they rank fifth nationally in rushing yards per game at 234.2.

Right behind them in sixth? The Chanticleers. Coastal rushed for 231.3 yards per game and finished the regular season with a 10-2 record. Unfortunately for Jamey Chadwell's program, their 6-2 record in the Sun Belt wasn't good enough to win the East Division, as one of those two losses was to Appalachian State, which finished 7-1 in conference play.

Coastal Carolina vs. Northern Illinois: Need to know

Grayson McCall is one of the most exciting players in the country: The Chanticleers might be a run-first team, but don't get confused and think it means they aren't capable of throwing the ball. Quarterback Grayson McCall helps out in the run game (250 yards, four touchdowns), but his ability as a passer is what makes the Coastal offense so hard to stop. While McCall doesn't have the overall gaudy passing numbers, his passer efficiency rating of 207.95 was the best in the nation among qualified QBs, and not by a narrow margin. Ohio State's C.J. Stroud finished second at 182.24. McCall averaged over 12 yards per attempt this season and threw 23 touchdowns to only three interceptions, leading a Coastal offense that averaged 40.4 points per game.

Rocky Lombardi helped ignite Northern Illinois' season: Northern Illinois ran the ball on 63.7% of its plays this season, which was the fifth-most frequent rate in the country behind the three service academies and Minnesota, but Rocky Lombardi played a significant role. The transfer QB from Michigan State was a true dual-threat, passing for 2,416 yards and 13 touchdowns while rushing for 406 yards and eight touchdowns. More so than the numbers show, Lombardi could make the play his team needed no matter the circumstance, and that helped the Huskies win so many close games -- seven of NIU's nine wins were one-score games -- and propelled them to a MAC title.

This is Coastal's second appearance in the Cure Bowl: The Cure Bowl has not existed very long, as it was first played in 2015, but Coastal Carolina is the third team to make multiple appearances in the game. Last season, the Chanticleers played in the game and were ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll, but lost to No. 23 Liberty 37-34 in overtime. Both teams were the first ranked teams to appear in the Cure Bowl and Liberty was making its second appearance in the game. The other school to appear twice is Coastal's Sun Belt division rival Georgia State. This is Northern Illinois' first appearance in the game and the first time any MAC team will play in the game.

How to watch Cure Bowl live

Game: Cure Bowl
: Friday, December 17 | Time: 6 p.m. ET
Location: Exploria Stadium -- Orlando, FL
TV: ESPN2 | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)

Cure Bowl prediction, picks

Featured Game | Coastal Carolina Chanticleers vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

While Northern Illinois won its conference and is a great story, I worry about how its defense will hold up against this Coastal Carolina attack. Grayson McCall is the most dynamic and effective QB the Huskies will have faced this season, and while the Huskies like to run the ball, they don't do a good job defending it. Northern ranks 128th nationally in defensive EPA (expected points added) against the run and 127th in defensive success rate against the run. It's hard to see them getting enough stops in this game to stay within this spread. Prediction: Coastal Carolina (-10)

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