Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State: Previewing the Bowl

Jeffrey BatheContributor IIIDecember 17, 2011

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02:  Pat Schiller #53, Scott Wedige #71 and Chandler Harnish #12 of the Northern Illinois Huskies pose for a photo after winning the MAC Championship game against the Ohio Bobcats at Ford Field on December 2, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The Huskies defeated the Bobcats 23-20.  (Photo by Mark A. Cunningham/Getty Images)
Mark A. Cunningham/Getty Images

The Bowl is not a major bowl. It comes to near the end of a chaotic stretch of games and features the Northern Illinois Huskies and Arkansas State Red Wolves, two programs that most fans have not heard of.

Despite this, the game is a must watch for the reasons spelled out before. In fact, for true football fans, it will be the best college game of the week. 



Fans like scoring, and in this game there is the potential for a lot of points.

The Huskies have a potent offense. They averaged 38.3 points a game and had nine games where they scored over 40 points.

Senior QB Chandler Harnish is the key to the NIU offense.

Not only did he pass for 2,942 yards, but he also led the ground attack with 1,382 yards. Senior RB Jasmin Hopkins complemented his mobile quarterback, adding 932 yards and 15 touchdowns. NIU was ninth in the nation in rushing with 247.6 yards per game.

Like NIU, the Red Wolves have the ability to move the ball.

ASU averaged 33.5 points per game. The Red Wolves aerial attack was 17th in the nation in passing yards and is led by QB Ryan Alpin, who threw for 3,235 yards and 18 touchdowns. Alpin was ASU's leading rusher, carrying the ball for 605 yards and nine touchdowns.

It will be a treat to see such a pair of dual-threat quarterbacks face off in the penultimate bowl game.



The Huskies have had more than their fare share of shootouts, having allowed at least 35 points in five games. For the season, NIU gave up 31.1 points a contest, which puts them in the bottom third of FBS teams.

A bright spot for the Huskies is that they closed out the regular season with three of their best efforts. While struggling in the first half against Ohio in the MAC title game, they rebounded to shut out the Bobcats in the second half on their way to the conference title.

Unlike NIU, the Red Wolves have been successful on defense this season, allowing only 19.3 points per game (19th in FBS). In fact ASU had only one game where they gave up more points than NIU's average (a 33-15 loss to Illinois). 

ASU landed four starters on the Sun Belt All-Conference team. DL Brandon Joiner and LB Demario Davis have provided pressure up front and DB Darryl Feemster and DB Kelcie McCray have made sure the opponents have fits in the passing game.

Key Victories

Neither team had a huge upset victory during the year, but both had key games that brought them into this showdown. For NIU it was their 23-20 win over Ohio in the MAC championship game. The Huskies came back from a 20-0 halftime deficit to claim their first conference title since 1983.

For ASU the key victories were their 26-22 victory over Western Kentucky in October and their 45-14 win over Troy in December. The win over WKU put them in the driver's seat for winning the Sun Belt conference. The win over Troy clinched a perfect conference season and guaranteed their first outright title.



NIU is lead by first-year coach Dave Doeren. Doeren was hired to replace Jerry Kill, who had moved to take the reigns at Minnesota. Doeren came to NIU from Wisconsin and led the Huskies to the MAC title.

Hugh Freeze led the Red Wolves to their first outright Sun Belt title and gained its first 10-win season since 1986. Unfortunately for ASU, he has left the program to take the head coaching position at Mississippi.

Offensive coordinator David Gunn will coach Arkansas State in the bowl game before former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn takes over next season.



The Huskies have won nine of their last 10 headed into the bowl game. This is NIU's fourth straight bowl appearance and seventh overall.

The Red Wolves have won 10 of their last 11 games. This is ASU's second bowl appearance and first since 2005.



Despite the challenges on defense for the Huskies, there are too many other factors in their favor as they will prevail in a shooting. Projection: 35-33 NIU.