Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Boca Raton Bowl Preview

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Northern Illinois vs. UAB

Boca Raton Bowl History

-- The champions of the Mid-American Conference (MAC), the Northern Illinois Huskies (8-5 straight up, 7-6 against the spread) meet the champions of Conference USA, the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (10-3 straight up, 9-4 against the spread) in the fifth all-time installment of the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl. The Boca Bowl is just one of three bowl games to feature two outright conference champions.

-- The Huskies played in the inaugural Boca Bowl game back on Dec. 23, 2014, falling 52-23 to Marshall in front of 29,419 fans. They'll be looking to snap a five-game bowl losing skid since their last victory in the postseason back in 2011 when they pushed aside Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. The Huskies have managed a 4-8 SU mark in 12 all-time bowl games.

-- The Blazers have rebounded rather nicely after killing their football program after the 2014 season. The program was resurrected in 2017, and they have been bowl eligible in each of the past two seasons under Bill Clark. UAB was waxed by Ohio U in the Bahamas Bowl last season, 41-6, and they're 0-2 SU/ATS in two all-time bowl appearances.

-- NIU opened the season taking it on the chin in each of their first two games, losing at Iowa and at home against Utah in a soaking rain. They also faced a Power 5 Conference team at Florida State, falling Sept. 22 in Tallahassee by a 37-19 score. After opening 1-3 SU/ATS, they entered conference play with a bang. The Huskies won six straight games in MAC play, starting with an overtime win at Eastern Michigan, also a bowl team, back on Sept. 29. They went 5-1 ATS during the impressive span to get bowl eligible. They had a hiccup against Miami-Ohio at home on Nov. 14 and at Western Michigan on Nov. 21, but they had still done enough to get into the MAC title game. They rallied to top a 10-win Buffalo team in the championship game.

-- UAB fired out of the chute with eight wins in their first nine games, including an impressive 8-1 ATS durng the span. The only stumble was a 47-24 loss at Coastal Carolina on Sept. 8. It was defense which really helped the Blazers this season, as they pitched three shutouts, while allowing seven or fewer points in six of their 13 contests. They were outclassed 41-20 at Texas A&M on Nov. 17, while slipping up 27-3 at Middle Tennessee on Nov. 24. However, in a rematch with the Blue Raiders in the C-USA title game in Murfreesboro they pushed aside Middle Tennessee 27-25 to win their first-ever conference championship.

-- NIU really struggled offensively this season, ranking 123rd in the nation in total yardage (325.0 yards per game) while checking in just 120th in the pass department with 153.5 yards per contest. Their bread is buttered in the run game, putting up 171.5 yards per contest to rank 61st in the nation. The Huskies rank 31st in the nation with 347.8 yards per game allowed, and they're especially hard on the opponent's road game, allowing just 109.7 yards per game to rank 14th. They also allowed just 21.5 PPG to finish 26th in the country.

-- UAB also wasn't terribly impressive on the road, posting 400.4 yards per game to finish 67th in the nation. They posted 191.5 yards per game through the air to finish 100th in the FBS, and they also like to run the football more. The Blazers posted 208.9 yards per game on the ground to rank 29th overall. On defense, UAB ranked 11th in the land with just 300.2 yards per game allowed, and they were 16th in passing yards allowed (181.2), 20th in rushing yards allowed (119.0) and 10th in points allowed (17.3 PPG).

-- QB Marcus Childers was so-so under center, passing for 1,996 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while running for 496 yards and six scores. RB Tre Harbison ran for 985 yards and four touchdowns, and Marcus Johnson was a nice change-of-pace back with 523 yards and four scores. In the pass game, the trio of WRs Jauan Wesley (49-585-2), D.J. Brown (55-484-5) and Spencer Tears (34-372-4) are the ones to watch.

-- When UAB has the ball, RB Spener Brown is the one to watch. He ran 248 times for 1,152 yards (4.6 yards per game) with 16 touchdowns. QB A.J. Erdely (shoulder) is questionable for Tuesday's game. He threw for 1,539 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions while rushing for 257 yards and five scores. If he cannot go it will be QB Tyler Johnston III, who filled in with 950 yards, seven touchdows and four rushing scores. Both are likely to play even if Erdely is active.

-- UAB enters this bowl 8-3 ATS over the past 11 games overall, and they're also 8-3 ATS in the past 11 against winning teams. They have failed to cover their past four outings on a grass surface, however.

-- NIU heads in with an 0-5 ATS mark over the past five bowl appearances, and they're 1-5 ATS in the past six against the Conference USA. They're also just 5-16-1 ATS in the past 22 neutral-site battles, and 5-13 ATS in the past 18 on a grass surface. However, they have covered in four of the past five against winning teams.

-- The over is 4-1 in UAB's past five overall, and 8-3 in their past 11 on a grass surface. The under is 7-2 in their past nine against winning teams, however.

-- The under is 9-4 in UAB's past 13 overall, and 7-3 ATS in the past 10 non-conference tilts. However, the over is 5-2 in the past seven neutral-site battles while hitting in four of their past five played in the month of December.

-- Kickoff is slated for 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

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