- Get ready for the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl with all you need to know about the matchup of UAB and Northern Illinois at FAU Stadium.
After a five-game slate to kick off the FBS bowl season last weekend was followed by a two-day break to clear the way for NFL action, Tuesday marks the resumption of the bowl schedule, with only a few interruptions between now and New Year’s Day. Every morning there are bowls on, we’ll be setting them up here.
To get you ready for tonight’s action, we’ve compiled a handy, digestible guide to the game for those needing a primer on two conference champions.
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. UAB (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: UAB’s success is the most underrated story of this college football season and it isn’t close. The school’s president, Ray Watts, terminated the football program after the 2014 season in an effort to save money. Public outrage ensued, drumming up interest and financial support in the program, and after a two-year hiatus the Blazers returned to the field last season, then promptly went 8–5 while relying heavily on underclassmen and JUCO transfers. This year, UAB won its first Conference USA championship and have a shot at the first bowl win in school history. They’re led by bruising sophomore running back Spencer Brown and a strong front seven. Northern Illinois won a conference title of its own, storming back from 13 down to beat Buffalo by a point to win the MAC.
Betting Preview: UAB's Run Game Will Be Difference-Maker vs. Northern Illinois
What You May Not Know: NIU somehow won its conference despite having one of the worst passing games in the country. The Huskies are 125th in passing S&P+; the next-worst team that will play in a bowl is Miami at 112. In their first 12 games, quarterback Marcus Childers threw for 1,696 yards (141.3 per game) with 11 touchdowns and nine picks. So, of course, he had 300 yards and four touchdowns against Buffalo. This Huskies team is also run-heavy (Childers is a weapon with his legs) and possesses a great defense. Junior defensive end and SI All-America first-teamer Sutton Smith leads the nation with 15 solo sacks after getting four against Western Michigan in the regular season finale and two against the Bulls. —Will Ragatz
Draft Prospect to Watch: Smith dominated his competition in his last two seasons and was named a first-time AP All-American. Despite a lack of size, and facing double teams, he still had 63 quarterback pressures. There isn’t a defensive end (listed at 6’ 0", 225 lbs) at the NFL level that is as small as Smith, so a position change may be in order once he reaches the league. — Scooby Axson