2018 Boca Raton Bowl: Teams, Facts, and Pick
Not much MAC-tion to be had here.
Sunny South Florida gives us the 2018 Boca Raton Bowl, but who is going to win it?
Two conference champions stand before us. Now, the time has come for them to bowl. This game is being held in the home stadium of Florida Atlantic University, a team that had sliced through Conference USA last season. In 2018, their successors as C-USA champs take the field here to attempt a defense of their conference’s honor.
On the other sideline, we get Northern Illinois, a team that put together a shocking comeback to defeat Buffalo in the MAC title game. A little bit of Group of Five supremacy is on the line.
2018 Boca Raton Bowl: This Year’s Bowl Info
|Tuesday, December 18, 2018, 7:00pm ET (4:00pm PT)|
|FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida|
|Broadcast on ESPN|
|$1,000,000 payout (Link: College Football Poll)|
|UAB is a 2.5-point favorite|
2018 Boca Raton Bowl: Northern Illinois Huskies
|8-5 (6-2 MAC); 2018 MAC champions|
|Best Win: Buffalo (championship game)|
|Offensive Ranks (out of 130): Scoring Offense 120th, Total Offense 123rd, Rushing Offense 60th, 3rd Downs 100th, Time of Possession 105th, Turnover Margin T-68th, Sacks Allowed 114th, Red Zone 79th|
|Defensive Ranks (out of 130): Scoring Defense 26th, Total Defense 31st, Rushing Defense 14th, Opponent 3rd Downs 59th, Sacks Per Game 1st, TFL Per Game T-6th, Interceptions T-99th, Opponent Red Zone T-56th|
|Special Teams Ranks (out of 130): Field Goal Kicking T-89th, Punts Per Game T-8th|
2018 Boca Raton Bowl: UAB Blazers
|10-3 (7-1 Conference USA); 2018 Conference USA champions|
|Best Win: North Texas|
|Offensive Ranks (out of 130): Scoring Offense 62nd, Total Offense 67th, Rushing Offense 28th, 3rd Downs T-27th, Time of Possession 13th, Turnover Margin T-74th, Sacks Allowed 47th, Red Zone T-87th|
|Defensive Ranks (out of 130): Scoring Defense T-9th, Total Defense 10th, Rushing Defense 20th, Opponent 3rd Downs 2nd, Sacks Per Game 4th, TFL Per Game 5th, Interceptions T-74th, Opponent Red Zone 76th|
|Special Teams Ranks (out of 130): Field Goal Kicking T-123rd, Punts Per Game T-85th|
2018 Boca Raton Bowl: Head-to-Head
This will be the first all-time meeting between Northern Illinois and UAB. (Link: Winsipedia)
2018 Boca Raton Bowl: Most Likely Standout Player
Sutton Smith, DE, Northern Illinois. Smith is the best defensive player on Northern Illinois, and this for sure looks like a game where defense will be the order of the day. Against a conference like the MAC, which is known for its high-octane offenses and lack of defense, to be a team that actually plays it is a revelation. Smith is tied for the national lead in sacks with 15, but let’s not forget his teammate, Josh Corcoran, not far behind at ten. (Jamell Garcia-Williams of UAB has 9.5, not to be ignored.) If big plays are to be had, Smith will be in the middle of many of them.
As for Spencer Brown, UAB’s running back, we could have gone with him. He has been one of the most important players on offense for UAB this season. He has rushed for 1,149 yards and 16 touchdowns; that’s not as many yards as he had last year, but it’s six more touchdowns. In the C-USA title game against Middle Tennessee, he ran for 156 yards, setting a season-best mark while adding a touchdown to his total. The problem is that Northern Illinois’ run defense is stout. Will UAB be able to get it going on the ground against the likes of Smith and NIU’s defensive front seven?
2018 Boca Raton Bowl: Pick
The only surprising outcome of this game would be an offensive outburst. Both Northern Illinois and UAB have proven themselves when it comes to (a) winning their conferences and (b) playing defense. That Northern Illinois got to this game, coming out of the MAC, having its third-worst offense and averaging just 21 points per game is a testament to their defense, if nothing else.
What we can’t ignore is just how inefficient the NIU offense is. This is one of the least impressive offenses in FBS in that they punt a lot, do not score much, and do not accumulate much yardage. Further, as one might expect, they do not hit many big plays. NIU had 40 plays from scrimmage this season of 40 or more yards, and this is in 13 games; that was in the bottom ten of FBS. Not every offense is a big play offense, however: Texas had just six plays of 40 or more yards from scrimmage, whereas Northern Illinois had five — and Oklahoma had 33. The question becomes who will have the most effectiveness moving the ball against the other team, and it seems UAB is the more complete team in terms of balancing offensive and defensive production.
If Northern Illinois is going to pull the upset, they will need their defense to cause turnovers and give their offense short fields.
For UAB to be in the position they are in now is extraordinary, feeling the anguish of losing their team a few years ago to winning their conference and maybe a bowl game. This could be theirs to win but look for a hard-fought defensive struggle.