The UAB Blazers (10-3) are set to take on the Northern Illinois Huskies (8-5) in the 2018 Boca Raton Bowl. Kickoff is set for 7:00 EST on Tuesday, December 18th at FAU Football Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Oddsmakers currently have UAB listed as a 2.5-point home favorite with the total set for 43 points.
UAB vs Northern Illinois Vegas Game Odds & Betting Preview
UAB added to it’s remarkable story by securing the 2018 C-USA title. The Blazers finished the regular season with 10 wins, which is truly remarkable for school that didn’t field a football team in 2016. UAB defeated Middle Tennessee 27-25 in the championship game.
Last year UAB was just happy about making it to a bowl game and it showed, as they got throttled by Ohio 41-6 in the Bahamas bowl. This time around the Blazers are focused on delivering the program’s first ever bowl win.
Northern Illinois is also a conference champion. The Huskies retook the throne in the MAC, securing their 4th conference title in the last 8 years. It didn’t come easy. In fact, Northern Illinois trailed 29-10 early in the 3rd quarter, but would score 20 unanswered to stun Buffalo 30-29.
This will be the 6th time that Northern Illinois has made it to a bowl under head coach Rod Carey. They are hoping this one has a different outcome. The Huskies are 0-5 in bowl games under Carey and most haven’t been close. In fact, they are losing by an average of 25 ppg during this stretch.
2018 Boca Raton Bowl Free Pick & Betting Predictions: N Illinois +2.5
My early lean here would be take the dog in this fight. I don’t see any kind of motivational edge for either team. I think both are going to be extremely motivated. UAB wants to win their first bowl game in program history. Northern Illinois wants to snap a 5-game bowl losing streak, that they have to be just sick of hearing about.
Click on the link for more free bowl picks from our expert handicappers on staff.
I just think the Huskies are the better team. Northern Illinois’ 8-5 record is extremely misleading because of their non-conference schedule. They played @ Iowa, hosted Utah, @ Florida State and @ BYU. They only lost by 11 at home to the Utes and upset BYU 7-6. They were a perfect 6-0 in MAC play before losing the final two games of the regular-season. What a lot of people will overlook is those two late losses came after they had already clinched a spot in the MAC title game.
UAB’s only big step-up game in non-conference was at Texas A&M late in the year, which they weren’t competitive in. While they did have a decent win at home against Tulane they also lost 47-24 to a Coastal Carolina team that finished the year 5-7 (2-6 Sun Belt). It’s also worth noting they didn’t have to play Marshall, FIU or FAU out of the East.
I know it’s a new year, but I also can’t not look at the two games the Blazers played against the MAC last year. They lost by 20-points to a Ball State team that finished the year 2-10. Then they got absolutely destroyed by Ohio in the bowl game.
As far as the matchup is concerned, I think Northern Illinois’ defense is going to dominate this game. UAB wants to run the football. They averaged 45 rush attempts compared to just 24 pass attempts. They averaged 209 rushing yards and just 191 passing yards (only completed 55.9%). The Huskies only gave up 110 rushing/yards game and 2.7 yards/carry, which is truly remarkable given the teams they played out of conference. They have an All-American defensive end in Sutton Smith, who led the country with 15 sacks.
I know the Northern Illinois offense isn’t great, but you have to keep in mind their offensive numbers are greatly skewed due to having to face Iowa, Florida State, BYU and Utah out of conference. They were much more efficient in conference play. I think they can score into the 20’s and I think that will be enough to get the win. Give me the Huskies +2.5!