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Boca Raton Bowl Preview & Prediction: UAB vs Northern Illinois

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The MAC champs will take on the champs of C-USA, in what could be the lowest scoring game of bowl season.

NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Location: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida

Date: Tuesday, December 18th

Time: 7:00 PM ET

TV/Stream: ESPN

Records: UAB (10-3), Northern Illinois (8-5)

Betting line: UAB -2.5

Over/Under: 42.5

All-Time Series: First ever meeting


Preview

The Boca Raton Bowl is projected to be an old school defensive battle, as UAB and Northern Illinois are among the best defensive teams in the nation. Northern Illinois lead the MAC in scoring defense, allowing 21.5 points per game on their way to a MAC conference title. Sutton Smith is the star, as the defensive end has 24.5 TFLs with 15 sacks.

UAB is just as dominant, as they allowed 17.3 points per game en-route to their first C-USA conference title. The Blazers are dominant thanks to their front seven as Tre’ Crawford, Jamell Garcia-Williams and Chris Woolbright each have at least 12 TFLs.

With the two best units of the game belonging to the defense, the obvious keys to the game will be field position and turnovers.

Freshman Tyler Johnston took over for AJ Erderly towards the end of the season at quarterback and has thrown for 950 yards with 7 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. UAB running back Spencer Brown is their best skill player, as the sophomore has rushed for 1,149 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.

The Huskies have their own dangerous rushing attack as QB Marcus Childers and RB Tre Harbison have combined for 1,763 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Similar to UAB, the passing attack isn’t that great, as Childers has passed for 1,996 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

These are two evenly matched teams that look very similar. The biggest difference between them is that NIU ranks 105th in Special Teams S&P+ compared to UAB who ranks 84th. The Blazers aren’t terribly better, but in what shapes up to be a low scoring game like this, special teams could be the difference maker between who finishes their season with a win.

Prediction

NIU had one of the toughest schedules in the country. After seeing how C-USA looked to start bowl season, I’m not terribly confident in the Blazers taking home a win. Conference USA is 3-0 all-time in the Boca Raton Bowl though. For that trend to continue Tyler Johnston must stay away from turnovers. He’s my key player of the game. First team to 20 wins.

Northern Illinois 21 UAB 16