By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA postseason kicks off Dec. 19, with 34 games being played in a three-week span.
Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their seasons on the winning side in the hopes of improving recruiting that follows afterwards.
The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 34 games that lie ahead and provide our predictions as well.
Let’s get to it!
International Bowl, Jan. 2, 12:00 PM, Toronto, Canada
Northern Illinois (7-5) vs. South Florida (7-5)
About Northern Illinois
The Huskies started off their season hot and cold, splitting the first half of games, 3-3. They reeled off four straight wins to give them a 7-3 record and a shot at the MAC Championship game. Two straight losses, including one to eventual MAC West Champion Central Michigan, saw Northern Illinois fall to 7-5.
The Huskies like to run, and it shows, ranking 17th in NCAA FBS with 202.42 yards a game. Junior RB Chad Spann led the squad with 938 yards and 19 touchdowns. Sophomore RB Me’Co Brown contributed 645 yards and four scores but missed the season finale with an injury. He should be expected to play.
The Huskies don’t throw often, only averaging 151.67 yards a game, finishing 109th out of 120 teams in NCAA FBS. Sophomore QB Chandler Harnish will start the game, but also expect to see him spelled by QB DeMarcus Grady, as Northern Illinois will use a combination of zone runs and options to keep moving the balls down the field.
The Huskies boast a solid defense, coming in at 27th in total yards (324 a game), and 29th in points allowed (21.17 a game). Junior DL Jake Coffman was one of the all-around contributors, piling up 36 tackles (11.5 for loss), 7.5 sacks, and an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Senior LB Cory Hanson punched in 80 tackles (3.5 for loss) and three interceptions.
Despite losing a plethora of players to injuries, especially on the defensive side, Northern Illinois was able to hold its own against opponents.
About South Florida
Five straight wins, including one over in-state rival Florida State, had given the Bulls all the momentum they needed. They faded fast, losing five of their next seven, including their final two in a row, to stumble to 7-5.
Though the passing offense may have only finished 90th with 192.83 yards a game, which came about due to the season-ending injury of QB Matt Grothe, freshman QB B.J. Daniels stepped in and performed admirably in relief. He finished with 1,766 yards and 12 touchdowns, while leading the team in rushing with 798 yards and nine touchdowns.
Senior RB Moise Plancher was right behind him, racking up 570 yards and five touchdowns for the nation's 45th-ranked rushing attack (169.42 yards a game).
The O-line gives up nearly three sacks a game and will need to do better in order to give Daniels the ability to move down the field.
Much like their opponent, South Florida has a solid defense, 29th in points allowed (21.17 a game) and 31st in total yards (328.75 a game). Arguably the most well-known DE at USF is George Selvie. The senior had to deal with a number of double teams, and his numbers slipped to only 36 tackles (nine for loss) and three sacks.
Senior LB Kion Wilson was one of the leaders of the defense with Selvie being held up, leading the squad with 98 tackles (8.5 for loss), a sack, a fumble return, and an interception. Senior DB Nate Allen contributed 79 tackles and four interceptions.
Much like their opponent, USF wins with a solid defense and a hardcore rushing attack.
USF is 2-2 in their bowl history, having been to a bowl every year since 2005. They won their most recent matchup in the 2008 St. Petersburg Bowl against Memphis, 41-14.
Northern Illinois is also 2-2 in bowl games. They have lost two in a row, most recently the 2008 Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech 17-10.
The two teams are 1-1 against each other, the most recent win coming to South Florida in 2002.
Both teams are mirror images of each other, as they use a run-based attack coupled with a solid defensive output. However, South Florida has Daniels, who is better equipped for running and throwing. His abilities to make plays will be huge with a porous front five blocking for him.
He has thrown nine interceptions, so if NIU mixes some coverage, throwing blitz packages from random areas, they could cause a turnover or two.
NIU will run and continue to run until it is established. They will use zone reads and option plays, keeping from throwing the ball until they absolutely have to. Look for them to continue to double team Selvie, trying to make him a limiting factor during the game. Expect draw and screens to throw off the pressure of the Bulls.
USF, behind the arms and legs of Daniels, wins 31-17.