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2010 uDrove Humanitarian Bowl - FSU vs. NIU
Posted Dec 17, 2010

2010-2011 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2010 uDrove Humanitarian Bowl - Fresno State vs. Northern Illinois

2010 uDrove Humanitarian

Fresno State
(8-4) vs. NIU (10-3)

Saturday, December 18th, 5:30 ESPN  

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Pick ATS: Fresno State  Confidence Score: 26
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 9 out of 35
SCROLL DOWN to the bottom for all the CFNers' confidence picks

By Pete Fiutak

This game might be there for the taking by whichever team really, really wants it.

Northern Illinois has had a rough, but interesting, last few weeks, and it has to show the mental toughness to not only overcome a colossal gag – and it was a gag – against Miami University in the MAC Championship, but also get past the loss of head coach Jerry Kill to Minnesota. Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, who was also in the mix for Indiana, is a terrific hire for the program and he’ll bring energy and a killer defensive mind to DeKalb … in a few weeks. He’ll stay with his duties with the Badgers through the Rose Bowl, meaning interim head coach Tom Matukewicz will be in the strange position of being a true lame duck. For the Huskies, a win is a must to keep a terrific season from being a total disappointment, and it’s going to take the right attitude to do it.

National Rankings
71st Total
50th Total
45th Scoring
79th Scoring
55th Rushing
65th Rushing
67th Passing
34th Passing
111th Turnover
Position Rankings
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
3.5 QBs 4
4 RBs 5
3.5 WRs 3
3 O Line 4
4 D Line 3
3.5 LBs 3
3.5 DBs 4
4 STs 3
4 Coach 2
CFN 2010 2011 CFN Bowl Previews & Confidence Picks
- New Mexico - BYU vs. UTEP
- Human. - Fresno St vs. NIU
- New Orleans - Troy vs. Ohio
- St. Pete - UL vs. So Miss
- Las Vegas - Utah vs. Boise St
- Poinsettia - SDSU vs. Navy
- Hawaii - Tulsa vs. Hawaii
- Little Caesars - Toledo vs. FIU
- Ind. - Air Force vs. GT
- Champs - NC St vs. WVU
- Insight - Iowa vs. Mizz
- Military - Mary. vs. ECU
- Texas - Illinois vs. Baylor
- Alamo - Ok St vs. Arizona
- Armed Forces - SMU vs. Army
- Pinstripe - SU vs. KSU
- Music City - UNC vs. Tenn
- Holiday - Neb vs. Wash
- Meineke - USF vs. Clemson
- Sun - Miami vs. ND
- Liberty - UCF vs. Georgia
- Chick-fil-A - FSU vs. USC
- TicketCity - NW vs. TT
- Outback - PSU vs. Florida
- Capital One - MSU vs. Bama
- Gator - Mich vs. Miss St
- GoDaddy - MU vs. MT
- Cotton - A&M vs. LSU
- Compass - Pitt vs. UK
- Kraft - BC vs. Nevada
- Rose - UW vs. TCU
- Fiesta - OU vs. UConn
- Orange - Stan. vs. VT
- Sugar - Ark. vs. OSU
- BCS Champ. - Aub. vs. Oregon
NIU started off the season 1-2 with losses at Iowa State and Illinois, but the team battled against a good Illini team in Champaign and showed glimpses of how good it could become in the 28-22 loss. After shocking Minnesota on the road the week after, the Huskies went on a roll winning nine straight, blowing through the MAC season, and getting to the title game with the league’s best offense, the best scoring defense, and with a phenomenal, unstoppable ground game. On the winning streak, only one game, a 28-21 win over Western Michigan, was closer than double digits, but that was the wake-up call as the attack was humming down the stretch hanging 65 on Toledo, 59 on Ball State, and 71 on Eastern Michigan, even though the West was already wrapped up.

And then came the thud.

Miami outhustled, outworked, and out played NIU, and while there were several chances to pull out the win in the 26-21 loss, and there were several mistakes from blown assignments, dropped passes, and a failed play on a miraculous fourth down RedHawk conversion, it was still a sour performance. Now, NIU has to overcome the adversity and its recent bowl problems, losing three straight since 2004 and getting smacked by South Florida 27-3 in last year’s International Bowl, to win 11 games and prove that this really was the star of the MAC this season.

Fresno State is in a different motivational boat. While NIU is in limbo as it goes from one coaching era to another, the Bulldogs have to try to care even though they’re not going against a big name team. When the lights are on and there’s a BCS team to play, Fresno State usually shows up. It got blown away at Ole Miss, but the year started with a win over Cincinnati and ended with a won over Illinois. The performances in bowl games have followed the same pattern and trend over the last seven trips. Since losing to Michigan State in a wild 2001 Silicon Valley shootout, Fresno State is 4-3 in bowl games. The four wins came against Georgia Tech, twice, UCLA, and Virginia, and the three losses came against Tulsa, Colorado State, and Wyoming. Call it a fault, or consider it a weird brain cramp, but under head coach Pat Hill, the team takes it to another level when it gets to make a point. Beating Northern Illinois wouldn’t make a point.

The Bulldogs were good this year and they had their moments, but they weren’t special and they failed in the three big WAC showdowns against Boise State, Nevada and Hawaii. Losing to the Broncos wasn’t anything to get in a twist over, but the losses to the Wolf Pack and Warriors were galling considering they came at home. Even so, this is an aggressive team that likes to come up with the big plays in the backfield, and isn’t bad at hitting on the home runs on offense. It’s all about want-to and momentum, and if the Bulldogs are on early, they’ll be great. If they have to fight through adversity, it’s not going to happen.

While the two team names might not have much sizzle, the Humanitarian Bowl should be competitive and entertaining. Last year’s Idaho win over Bowling Green was the best game of the bowl season, and in five of the last six years the bowl has been terrific with three decided by a total of five points and with two more decided by a touchdown or less. The one blowout? Fresno State 40-28 over Georgia Tech in 2007.

Players to Watch: Northern Illinois has to get Chad Spann going. The best player in the MAC this season ran for 1,239 yards and 20 touchdowns in the regular season, but he was stuffed by Miami in the MAC title game running for just 54 yards on 17 carries, and he didn’t score for the first time since the opener against Iowa State. NIU is 10-0 when he has rushed for 100 yards or more over the last two seasons, and this year the team is 1-3 when he runs for 80 yards or fewer. The 5-9, 198-pound speedster isn’t all that big, but he’s fast, tough, and he’s great when he gets into the open field. First, though, he has to get into the open field and that could be a problem against the aggressive Fresno State defensive front.

Two years ago the Bulldog defense did next to nothing to get into the backfield, but Chris Carter worked to do his part carrying the pass rushing workload making five of the team’s 11 sacks with 13 tackles for loss. This year, the 6-2, 245-pound First Team All-WAC star was fully healthy and showed off the speed and quickness to get into the backfield on a regular basis with a league-leading 11 sacks with 16.5 tackles for loss. Pressuring the quarterback won’t be a big deal in the bowl, but getting to Spann and the ground game before it gets started will be a must. Carter needs to play a huge role.

While Spann is the offensive star coming into the game, Fresno State back Robbie Rouse could steal the show. When healthy, the 5-7, 185-pounder is a dynamic gamebreaker who ran for 1,097 yards and eight touchdowns, but he missed time late in the year with a rib problem and a broken hand. Back in the swing of things, he’s practicing at full strength and will end up being the focal point of the FSU offense until the Huskies slow him down. Helping to pave the way will be Andrew Jackson, arguably the team’s best blocker, who’ll be back after missing almost all the season with an ankle problem.

Northern Illinois will win if ... it can get Fresno State in a lot of third and long situations. You’d never know it by the way Bulldog QB Ryan Colburn played against Illinois, but the passing game isn’t always clicking. It’s efficient, and it can hit on the big play, but it doesn’t do much to get the chains moving in third-and-long situations. Fresno State is miserable this season at converting on third down chances hitting fewer than 35% of the time, while NIU was the best in the MAC and the 29th in the country at coming up with third down stops. The NIU defense isn’t great at getting into the backfield, but it’s a rock against the run, allowing more than 150 yards just once – the loss to Illinois. If the tough Huskie defensive front can keep Rouse in check on first down, the rest of the defense should be more effective.

Mostly, NIU just needs to get its ground game going again. It never got into any sort of a groove against Miami, finishing with 92 yards, and the team still almost won the MAC title. Establishing Spann right away is a must, just to show everyone that the loss to the RedHawks was probably an aberration, and QB Chandler Harnish needs to break off a few big dashes to take the pressure off the rest of the attack. Hitting on a few deep plays would be nice, too. NIU could’ve busted the MU game wide open, but the receivers didn’t help the cause with a few key drops.

Fresno State will win if ... the defensive front controls the game. It’s not like the Bulldogs slowed down the Illinois offense, giving up 131 rushing yards to QB Nathan Scheelhaase and 142 yards to Mikel Leshoure, but the defensive line still came up with its share of key plays with four sacks and six tackles for loss. The pressure led to three interceptions as Illinois had to try to scramble a bit to keep up the pace. NIU will get its yards on the ground, and it’ll have a couple of long, sustained drives that’ll take away all the momentum, but the Fresno State line has to win a few third down battles. Sixth in the nation in sacks, the pressure has to be there throughout.

Getting up early would be nice. NIU can throw the ball a bit if needed, but this is a team built to run from the front. Get up, get the running game going, bleed the other team dry. If Colburn can connect on the big pass plays like he did against the Illini, and it he can find a groove like he got into in the win over Louisiana Tech, it’ll take the Huskies out of their comfort zone. Fresno State will likely be balanced, while NIU can’t win if it has to rely on the passing game.

What will happen: Illinois is the one common opponent between the two teams. NIU lost a close game on the road, Fresno State won a tight battle at home, and both teams got their doors blown off by the Illini ground game. NIU will be able to run on the Fresno State defense at will, but the Colburn will get hot, Rouse will match Spann’s production, and the pass rush will matter. The Bulldogs appear to be taking this game extremely seriously, and while NIU will play hard for Matukewicz, the coaching limbo will matter in a game this even.

CFN Prediction: Fresno State 31 … Northern Illinois 27 ... Line: NIU -1.5
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Pick ATS: Fresno State  Confidence Score: 26
OVERALL CONFIDENCE (35 most - 1 least): 9 out of 35

Pete Fiutak: Pick ATS - Fresno State   Pick Confidence - 25
- NIU head coach Jerry Kill is off to Minnesota, and after the stunning gag against Miami University in the MAC Championship, this hasn't been a good week for the Huskies. Fresno State would rather be playing a BCS, brand-name team, but beating Illinois in the regular-season finale will have to do. The NIU running game vs. the aggressive Bulldog pass rush should be worth the price of admission.

Richard Cirminiello: Pick ATS - Fresno State  Pick Confidence - 9
- Northern Illinois’ psyche could be very fragile for this game. Not only might the Huskies still be reeling form their loss in the MAC championship game, but popular head coach Jerry Kill is now at Minnesota.

Matt Zemek: Pick ATS  Fresno State   Pick Confidence - 1
- Chandler Harnish’s finesse against Fresno State’s power running game. Interesting clash of styles. Wonder how many people will travel to Boise or – if already there – buy a ticket.

Russ Mitchell: Pick ATS - Fresno State  Pick Confidence - 4
- How bad is Illinois? Or how good is Boise? Doesn't matter... FSU should roll over a “headless” Huskies.

Barrett Sallee: Pick ATS - NIU  Pick Confidence - 10
- Two potent offenses on the smurf turf. Running backs Chad Spann (Northern Illinois) and Robbie Rouse (Fresno State) will put on quite a show.

Gabe Harris: Pick ATS - Fresno State  Pick Confidence - 13
Brian Harbach: Pick ATS - NIU   Pick Confidence - 2
Matthew Smith: Pick ATS - NIU   Pick Confidence - 8
Billy Gomila: Pick ATS - Fresno State  Pick Confidence -  13
Clucko (A coin flip): Pick ATS - Nevada   Pick Confidence -  8

Humanitarian Bowl History

called the MPC Computers Bowl for a time 

2009 Idaho 43, Bowling Green 42
2008 Maryland 42, Georgia Tech 35
2007 Fresno St 40, Georgia Tech 28
2006 Miami 21, Nevada 20
2005 Boston Coll 27, Boise St 21
2004 Fresno St 37, Virginia 34 OT
2004 (Jan.) Georgia Tech 52, Tulsa 10
2002 Boise St 34, Iowa St 17
2001 Clemson 49, La Tech 24
2000 Boise St 38, UTEP 23
1999 Boise St 34, Louisville 31
1998 Idaho 42, So Miss 35
1997 Cincinnati 35, Utah St 19