- UAB and Northern Illinois can both get to the passer as well as any unit in the country, meaning both quarterbacks will be in for a long night in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Boca Raton Bowl: UAB Blazers vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (+2.5)
Tue., December 18, 7:00 p.m. ET
Three things to know before betting on University of Alabama at Birmingham-Northern Illinois:
1. The Boca Raton Bowl is one of the gems of the early bowl slate. It's the only non-New Year's Six bowl to feature two conference champions. UAB won the Conference USA title and is 9-4 against the spread. Northern Illinois became the MAC champions after taking down Buffalo 30-29 and enter this game with a 7-6 record ATS.
After shuttering its football program for the 2015 and '16 seasons, UAB is playing in its second consecutive bowl game, and Blazers coach Bill Clark has been incredible against the spread. While they missed two seasons, the Blazers still have the best ATS win percentage in the nation since 2014 (64.9%).
Northern Illinois is no stranger to bowl games. Among non-Power 5 schools, only Boise State has played in more bowl games over the past 11 seasons than the Huskies. But bowl games have not been kind to Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey. Under Carey, the Huskies are 0-5 both straight up and against the spread in bowl games, and only one of their losses was by fewer than three touchdowns.
2. UAB throws the ball on 36.5% of snaps (122nd in FBS), while Northern Illinois passes 42.5% of the time (95th). Needless to say, you won't see either team air it out in this game, especially since both defenses have elite pass rushers. UAB sacks opposing QBs on 10.8% of dropbacks (third) while Northern Illinois brings them down 10.0% of the time (fifth). Despite facing a solid pass rush, UAB's offense has the best chance at success through the air. The school ranks 35th in FBS in yards per attempt (8.0) and 60th in opposing sack rate (6.3%). Northern Illinois, on the other hand, ranks 127th (5.4) and 117th (9.4%) in those categories.
3. Star UAB running back Spencer Brown is a workhorse, and he showed just how much he can be relied upon in the Blazers' Conference USA Championship win over Middle Tennessee. Brown carried the ball 31 times for 156 yards and a touchdown in the UAB win, ripping of a 30-yard run late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning field goal. It was Brown's eighth game of 20 or more carries this season, and he'll be the centerpiece of the UAB offense again in the Boca Raton Bowl. With the better offense in this contest, the Blazers should be able to get out to a lead over NIU. Once in control, Brown can help them hold onto that lead and bleed out the clock.
Pick: UAB -2.5
Confidence Level: Moderate (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)