MAC and C-USA Champs Square Off
A pair of conference champions who barely survived their title games square off tonight. Conference USA champion, the UAB Blazers, take on the UNI Huskies of the Mid American Conference. They will battle in the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl FAU Stadium.
UAB shut down its football program for two years starting in 2015, but revived it two years later. They set a school record for wins with 10. That includes a 27-25 victory over Middle Tennessee to qualify for its third-ever bowl appearance. Northern Illinois rallied from a 19-point, third-quarter deficit and defeated Buffalo 30-29 to qualify. Marcus Childers threw his fourth touchdown of the game 35 yards to D.J. Brown with 1:09 left to win its fifth conference title overall.
Blazers sophomore Spencer Brown ran for 156 yards and a touchdown in the title game. He gained 1,149 yards for the season with a school-record 16 touchdowns, that was seventh most in the FBS. The Alabama native has 2,481 yards in his two-year career and needs 340 yards to become UAB’s all-time leading rusher.
Huskies running back Tre Harbison gained 985 yards for an offense that averaged 171 yards per game. He is followed by Marcus Jones (523 yards, 5.6 per carry) and Childers (496 yards, 6 TDs).
The game will pair elite defenses. Northern Illinois yields 21.5 points per game, which is 26th in FBS, and only 2.7 yards per carry. UAB ranks 10th in points allowed at 17.3 per game, and total defense at 300.2 ypg. The Huskies lead the country in sacks with 50 and rank sixth in tackles for loss at 8.0 per game. Defensive end Sutton Smith is tied for the national lead in both categories (15 sacks, 24 TFL). The Blazers rank fourth in sacks (43) and fifth in tackles for loss (8.1) while setting the league record with three shutouts.
The UAB Blazers were 10-3 overall and 9-1 in the conference. Senior A.J. Erdely has a 56.1 percent completion rate with 1,539 yards, seven TDs, seven interceptions. He is the starting quarterback but has played just once since late October due to shoulder problems. Backup Tyler Johnston III has a 56.8 percent, 950 yards, seven TDs, eight interceptions and threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Texas A&M on Nov. 17. He was 9-of-15 for 140 yards with a TD in the conference title game. Defensive lineman Jamell Garcia-Williams led the team in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (15.5), which ranked him third and sixth, respectively, in Conference USA, while linebacker Chris Woolbright was the team’s leading tackler with 74 – 13.5 of which went for a loss.
The NIU Huskies were 8-5 overall and 6-2 in the conference. Childers completed 21-of-33 passes for 300 yards with four TDs in the conference title game. He also led the team with 58 yards rushing. Childers completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 1,996 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and his favorite receiver was Brown, who caught 55 passes for 484 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. Linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis led the team with 119 tackles and added four sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss.
PREDICTION: UAB 24, Northern Illinois 17
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl Stats and Odds
Team record: 8-5 SU,7-6 ATS
Northern Illinois is 4-2 ATS in its last 6 games
Northern Illinois is 7-2 SU in its last 9 games
The total has gone UNDER in 9 of Northern Illinois’s last 13 games
Team record: 10-3 SU,9-4 ATS
Alabama-Birmingham is 8-3 ATS in its last 11 games
Alabama-Birmingham is 9-2 SU in its last 11 games
The total has gone OVER in 4 of Alabama-Birmingham’s last 5 games
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