Poinsettia Bowl 2015 Preview: Beginning of the End?

Over the past decade, Boise State and Northern Illinois have been the most successful Group of Five (G5) teams in college football. That’s one of the things that makes this year’s San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl so intriguing. Over the last five years, these two teams are a combined 112-23 (89.6%) with two New Year’s Six/BCS Bowl berths between them and one Fiesta Bowl win.

Boise State, over the last decade, is a gaudy 113-19 (85.6%) with two undefeated seasons and three Fiesta Bowl wins over Oklahoma, TCU and Arizona. In fact, Boise State – with four losses this year – didn’t lose more than four games over four entire seasons from 2006-2012. How’s that for a resume?

With that type of recent success, neither team expected to be playing before Christmas this year.

Poinsettia Bowl Preview:

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego, California
Boise State (8-4) vs. Northern Illinois (8-5)
December 23rd, 4:30 ET

But here they find themselves, the two most successful G5 teams of the past decade, in San Diego with two full days of shopping left before the jolly old elf comes to visit. Disappointed? Both teams probably are disappointed to a certain extent. Both teams had a roller-coaster year. Boise State opened with a big win over Washington and also beat Virginia. But the Broncos dropped games against Utah State and New Mexico and missed an upset opportunity against BYU.

Northern Illinois was even more up-and-down than Boise State. After out-playing Ohio State and failing to score on three fourth quarter drives to take the lead, they dropped a game against a woeful Boston College team. They come back with a win over undefeated and ranked Toledo, only to give up losses to Central Michigan and Ohio going forward. Northern Illinois has also had to deal with injuries at quarterback. So both teams probably are disappointed, yes. But that’s not the real story here.

The Beginning of the End?

More likely, however, is that both of these programs are worried that their place atop the G5 pecking order might be in jeopardy. Bowl games are often times as much about the next season as they are about the previous season. Teams get players back and have extended playing time. Programs use the bowl preparation to build momentum and excitement going forward. For both of these teams, this game is most definitely more about next year than this year.

In the current climate of college football, with competitiveness and parity putting constant pressure on programs to produce, each of these teams will be looking for a redeeming bowl win to make the transition from a disappointing 2015 to a hopeful and promising 2016. A bowl loss could signal slippage from the top of their conference further back into the field of hungry G5 teams. In the case of these two teams in this bowl game a loss is far worse than a win is a good thing.

The Game

As far as the game goes, Bryan Harsin will continue to ride the nation’s most underappreciated running back, Jeremy Nichols, to control the pace of the game. Nichols has 1,244 yards on the season (an impressive 5.6 yards/carry) and 18 touchdowns. As long as the Bronco offense stays away from the Huskies’ Shawun Lurry in the air, they should be able to wear down the Huskies’ defense and control the tempo of the game. The Huskies have surrendered 26 points or more in four of their last five games.

For Northern Illinois, it will come down to the quality of quarterback play. Backup Ryan Graham was forced into action midway through the season but suffered his own injury late in the season. Freshman Tommy Fielder played in the last two games with less-than-stellar numbers. While the Huskies have a good running back of their own in Joel Bouagnon (1,269 yards), the lack of a legitimate threat at quarterback will make it hard for Bouagnon and the Huskies ground game to get anything going.

If NIU can get some good quarterback play, the Boise State defense is susceptible. The Broncos gave up over 600 yards to a run-first Air Force offense a few weeks ago. For Northern Illinois, it all comes down to the quality of quarterback play. Have the young quarterbacks gotten healthy and better enough over the last two weeks to make a difference?

What It Means

A win in San Diego won’t take away the disappointment of the 2015 for either team. But it will bring tidings of success in the new year. A loss, on the other hand, will dampen the holiday spirits of team and fans alike. Not only will the loser of this game have even more disappointment to deal with in 2015, but they’ll have to worry about what the future holds for their team and the program.

Prediction: Boise State 38, Northern Illinois 20

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