In the penultimate game of this bowl season, the GoDaddy.com Bowl features two conference champions. The Arkansas State Red Wolves, who went undefeated through their schedule in the Sun Belt Conference, take on the Northern Illinois Huskies, winners of the MAC Championship.
The game will be played on Jan. 8 at 9 p.m. ET in Mobile, Ala., at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Record: 10-2 (8-0 Sun Belt)
Biggest win: vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 30-21, Nov. 12
Worst loss: at Illinois, 33-15, Sept. 3
Arkansas State has won nine straight games, the second-longest streak in the FBS, which is certainly impressive. That said, only two of those wins came against teams who played in bowl games. ]
The Red Wolves played two games this season against teams from BCS conferences, which made up their two losses.
As the Red Wolves have handled their Sun Belt schedule, it is no surprise that their season statistics are very impressive. Arkansas State ranks 23rd nationally in total offense, and 22nd nationally in total defense.
Record: 10-3 (7-1 MAC)
Biggest win: vs. Ohio (MAC Championship Game), 23-20, Dec. 2
Worst loss: at Central Michigan, 48-41, Oct. 1
After Arkansas State, the next-longest win streak in the nation belongs to Northern Illinois, who has won their last eight consecutive games. They completed that run with a victory in the MAC Championship Game over Ohio.
The Huskies got the season off to a very rocky 2-3 start, which included losses to Kansas and Central Michigan, but completely turned the ship around after that. With dual-threat Chandler Harnish leading the both the passing and rushing offenses, the Huskies rank ninth nationally in total offense.
Defensively, however, the Huskies have had their troubles: they rank 89th nationally in both total defense and scoring defense. Their worst scar of the season defensively came in a narrow victory over Toledo, in which they allowed 60 points.
Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish, Senior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 7
Chandler Harnish does not receive the hype of more explosive dual-threat quarterbacks Robert Griffin III, Denard Robinson and Collin Klein, but Harnish actually leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards this season, with 1,382.
Harnish has also been one of the nation’s most efficient passers, ranking 13th nationally in passer rating, with an impressive 26-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
There is nothing spectacular about Harnish physically: he has solid size, but does not have great speed or a big arm. Harnish uses his strength and toughness to aid his ability as a rusher, and he is an accurate passer who makes smart decisions. Harnish ranks ninth nationally in total offense per game.
Harnish is not much of an NFL prospect, but he has had a tremendous collegiate career at Northern Illinois, and should be expected to go out with a big performance in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Arkansas State DE Brandon Joiner, Senior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 7
Brandon Joiner has had a huge senior season for the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Joiner has emerged as one of the nation’s best pass rushers; he ranks fifth nationally with 12 sacks.
There is nothing spectacular about Joiner’s game, and he has played against weak competition in the Sun Belt, but his productivity is certainly impressive. Joiner could get himself drafted in April with a big game in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Arkansas State QB Ryan Aplin, Junior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 7-Undrafted
Chandler Harnish is not the only quarterback playing in the GoDaddy.com Bowl who leads his team in both passing and rushing. Ryan Aplin ranks just behind Harnish, 10th nationally, in total offense per game. Aplin has thrown for 3,235 yards and run for 605 yards this season.
Aplin is the key to a productive Arkansas State offense, and a key to their 10-win season this year. For the Red Wolves to win the GoDaddy.com Bowl, they will be counting upon another big game from Aplin.
Both teams won their conference championship.
Both teams’ leading rusher is their quarterback.
Wins vs bowl-playing teams: Arkansas State 2, Northern Illinois 3
Losses vs non-bowl-playing teams: Arkansas State 0, Northern Illinois 2
Arkansas State’s passing offense: 18th in nation, 287.8 yards per game
Northern Illinois’s passing defense: 78th in nation, 239.8 yards allowed per game
Northern Illinois’s rushing offense: 8th in nation, 247.6 yards per game
Arkansas State’s rushing defense: 14th in nation, 107.3 yards allowed per game
Understandably, most college football fans have already looked past this game in favor of Monday’s BCS National Championship Game, but there is reason to pay attention to the GoDaddy.com Bowl. With both teams coming in on big winning streaks, there is certainly potential for fireworks in this game.
With both teams led by a dual-threat quarterback, this game is likely to come down to which team’s defense can best contain the other team’s quarterback, and slow down their offense.
While Arkansas State’s defense has been the much better of the two this year, they have not faced much competition, and Chandler Harnish is the more dynamic of the two quarterbacks in this game.
I believe the Huskies have been better battle-tested, and should be more prepared for this game than the Red Wolves. Arkansas State will certainly not back down without a good fight, but the Huskies’ offense should be able to prevail in a close, high-scoring game.
Final Score Prediction: Northern Illinois 38, Arkansas State 31