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2010 International Bowl - USF vs. NIU
USF QB B.J. Daniels & NIU QB Chandler Harnish
USF QB B.J. Daniels & NIU QB Chandler Harnish
Posted Dec 29, 2009

The CFN 2010 International Bowl Preview - South Florida vs. Northern Illinois

2010 International Bowl

South Florida (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois (7-5)

Toronto, ON, Jan. 2, 12 pm, ESPN2

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Team Pages and 2009 Season
South FloridaNorthern Illinois 


- 2009 CFN International Bowl Preview
- 2008 CFN International Bowl Preview
- 2007 CFN International Bowl Preview
National Rankings
N   S
79th Total Offense 72nd
27th Total Defense 31st
31st Scoring Offense 67th
29th Scoring Defense 29th
17th Rushing Offense 45th
31st Run Defense 49th
109th Passing Offense 90th
44th Passing Defense 27th
16th Turnover Margin 66th
Position Ratings
relative to each other
N 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 4
4.5 RBs 3.5
2 Receivers 3.5
3.5 O Line 2.5
4 D Line 4
3 Linebackers 3.5
3 Secondary 4
3 Spec Teams 2.5
4 Coaching 3
International Bowl History
2009 Connecticut 38, Buffalo 20

2008 Rutgers, 52, Ball State 30

2007 Cincinnati 27, Western Mich 24

South Florida and Northern Illinois in Toronto in January. Yeah, as much as any of this year’s bowl games, this one is going to test your allegiance to the sport and the postseason.

The reality is that a handful of bowls are designed only for the two programs involved and the truly hardcore fans of the sport. This is one of those games. Still, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any interesting storylines when the Bulls and the Huskies meet at the Rogers Centre for the fourth edition of the International Bowl.

The biggest challenge for South Florida might be to maintain its focus leading up to kickoff. Not only does this invite feel like a consolation prize for a team trying to climb the Big East ladder, but head coach Jim Leavitt has spent much of December dealing with allegations he struck a player. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, this will have to be a distraction no matter how hard the staff tries to keep a lid on it.

Although the Bulls are bowling for a fifth consecutive season, the novelty has begun to wear off. Trips to the Meineke Car Care Bowl and St. Petersburg Bowl were acceptable in the past, but the program and its fans have begun pining for more, especially since there appears to be as much talent in Tampa as anywhere else in the Big East. Yet, South Florida has become known for its fast starts and inability to finish strong. This season has been no different.

After beginning the season 5-0, including a stunning upset at Florida State, and rising into the Top 25, the Bulls sunk to a miserable 2-5 finish. An Oct. 30 win over West Virginia aside, they failed to hold up against the tougher portion of the schedule, finishing in a fourth place tie in the conference. In recent years, Leavitt has not been able to shake the notion that he may have peaked with this program.

Northern Illinois returns for a second straight bowl game under head coach Jerry Kill, looking for a better result than last year’s 17-10 Independence Bowl loss to Louisiana Tech. A young team that was on the postseason bubble in early December, the Huskies can earn a heaping of national respect for the program and the Mid-American Conference with an upset of a known commodity out of the Big East. Since the inaugural International Bowl, the MAC is 0-3 in this match up, losing games to Cincinnati, Rutgers, and Connecticut.

The Huskies have already proven they can stay with opponents from major conferences, losing at Wisconsin, 28-20, in the opener and knocking off Purdue, 28-21, two weeks later. Once the MAC portion of the schedule began, Northern Illinois became rather predictable, steamrolling opponents in DeKalb and struggling away from home to finish three games behind Central Michigan in the West Division race. After going just 2-4 on the road this season, the program heads north of the border knowing it hasn’t won a game outside Illinois in more than two months.

Players to Watch: South Florida’s B.J. Daniels will present problems for a Northern Illinois defense that struggled with multi-dimensional quarterbacks down the stretch. He came on after Matt Grothe suffered a season-ending injury, rushing for 798 yards and nine scores, and steadily improving as a passer. When he’s not impersonating a fullback outside the pocket, he’ll be looking to exploit a secondary that was the weak link of the Huskie D this fall. On a fast, indoor track, wide receivers Carlton Mitchell, Dontavia Bogan, and A.J. Love have the jets to get behind the last line of defense.

Northern Illinois’ answer on defense will come up front from one of the MAC’s most talented defensive lines. While South Florida has had problems with pass protection throughout the year, the Huskies have consistently gotten to the quarterback and forced a spate of turnovers. The catalysts are defensive ends Jake Coffman, Brandon Bice, and Sean Progar, who have combined for 26 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. Not your typical MAC pass rusher, living in the body of an outside linebacker, the three ends in the rotation are all more than 250 pounds, which means they’ll hold up on running plays as well. Daniels is talented, but he’s also young and still somewhat raw. If forced to throw on the run or with a Huskie in close proximity, he’s liable to put a few passes up for grabs.

Can the athletic, veteran South Florida defense be beaten by a decidedly one-dimensional offense? Northern Illinois is going to try. The Huskies rank 17th nationally in rushing and 109th in passing, so there’s little mystery how they plan to attack. Chad Spann and Meco Brown may not look like prototypical workhorses, but together, they form one of the most productive tailback tandems in the Midwest. Spann has rushed for 945 yards and 19 touchdowns. Brown has pitched in 645 yards and four scores. They’ll be running behind C Eddie Adamski and an underrated offensive line that’ll have its hands full on Saturday. The Bulls are loaded in the trenches, looking nothing like the MAC defenses Northern Illinois is accustomed to. Ends Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie are next-level pass rushers and tackles Aaron Harris and Terrell McClain have the size and strength to clog up running lanes.

Northern Illinois will win if ... : it rushes for at least 175 yards. If the Huskies can control the line of scrimmage and the clock, it has a chance for the upset. If not, they could get blown out. Spann and Brown need to get ample running room in order to extend drives and prevent QB Chandler Harnish from having to play outside his potential. More specifically, it’ll be up to Adamski, LG Jason Onyebuagu, and the entire offensive line to hold their blocks long enough for the backs to glide past the first line of defense. The Bulls are already entering this game with a little-to-gain attitude. If Northern Illinois can get physical with them and engineer time-consuming drives, it’s going to get under the skin of the entire USF sideline. When the Huskies have churned out at least 175 yards on the ground this season, they’re 6-0, including the September upset of the Boilermakers.

South Florida will win if ... : its edge in speed is evident throughout the afternoon. South Florida is loaded with Sunshine State speed and explosiveness on both sides of the ball. In this area, Northern Illinois doesn’t match up particularly well, a concern for Kill and his assistants. The keys for the Bulls will be to get its playmakers on both sides of the ball out into space as frequently as possible. On offense, that means Daniels, RB Moise Plancher, and the gaggle of fleet-footed receivers need to be put into opportunities where they can expose the Huskie defense. Defensively, South Florida wants to wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage and with blitzes from linebackers Kion Wilson and Chris Robinson. In the secondary, FS Nate Allen and CB Jerome Murphy should toy with a pedestrian set of opposing receivers. If the running of these Bulls makes Toronto look like Pamplona, Northern Illinois will get gored by a much more athletic team.

What will happen: South Florida has more talent, but Northern Illinois has the decided edge in motivation, which will make for a closer-than-expected International Bowl. Where exactly will the Bulls’ heads be come kickoff? Their coach is getting grilled for alleged abuse and they’re in Canada to square off with a middling team from the MAC. It’s safe to assume that a Northern Illinois team that can run the football effectively and play some defense will be competitive in this one deep into the second half. The Huskies will grind it out relentlessly, knowing that South Florida doesn’t have the kind of offense that’s going to produce fireworks and a track meet. However, before time expires, the Bulls’ edge in overall talent and athleticism will prevail in a competitive game. Daniels will make a couple of huge runs through the defense and showcase one of the strongest arms in the Big East. The defense will stiffen following a few halftime adjustments, stacking the box with safeties and linebackers in order to stop Spann and Brown. While the Huskies will represent the MAC well, their inability to complete passes in the final quarter will cost them a chance at pulling off the breakthrough upset.

CFN Prediction: South Florida 30 … Northern Illinois 20 ... Line: South Florida -6.5

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Best Bull Bowl Moment: In 2005, South Florida played in its first bowl game, a 14-0 loss to NC State in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. A year later, the Bulls won their first bowl game, a 24-7 defeat of East Carolina in the inaugural Bowl. In another important stride for head coach Jim Leavitt and the program, USF got a pair of touchdown runs from RB Benjamin Williams and an outstanding effort from a defense that delivered six sacks and was particularly nasty in the red zone.

Best Huskie Bowl Moment: There wasn’t much drama or many style points, but Northern Illinois’ 34-21 win over Troy in the 2004 Silicon Valley Classic was a landmark victory for a program that was breaking a 21-year postseason dry spell.

South Florida Bowl History (2-2)
2008 St. Petersburg USF 41, Memphis 14
2007 Sun Oregon 56, USF 21
2006 Papa USF 24, East Carolina 7
2005 Meineke Car Care NC State 14, USF 0
NIU Bowl History (2-2)
2008 Independ. La Tech 17, NIU 10
2006 Poinsettia TCU 37, NIU 7
2004 Silicon Valley NIU 34, Troy 21
1983 California NIU 20, Cal St Fullerton 13