Northern Illinois (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (7-5) (ET)

GAME NOTES: For the second consecutive season, the Northern Illinois Huskies
and the Bowling Green Falcons will meet in the Mid-American Conference
championship game at Detroit’s Ford Field.

Northern Illinois enters the game having won its last six contests, boasting a
10-2 overall record with a 7-1 mark in conference play. This time last year,
the Huskies were headed into the championship game with a perfect record. This
time around, the Huskies are simply looking to secure the conference crown.

Bowling Green limps into the conference championship game, having lost its
last two contests to Toledo (27-20) and Ball State (41-24). The Falcons
secured the MAC East Division several weeks ago.

These two teams have met a total of 18 times on the football field, with
Bowling Green holding the all-time advantage, 11-7. Fittingly, the last time
these programs clashed was in the 2013 MAC title game – a 47-27 Bowling Green
victory.

Northern Illinois boasts an offensive attack centered around the run game. The
Huskies average 246.2 rushing ypg entering the title contest, which is similar
to the system the squad employed last season to get there. Tailback Cameron
Stingily owns a team-best 11 touchdowns on the ground this season, but
quarterback Drew Hare leads his unit with 790 rushing yards on the season. He
and Stingily both average over 65 rushing ypg.

Hare has proven to be an effective passer this season as well, throwing for
1,879 yards and 15 touchdowns against just one interception. Hare averages
156.6 passing ypg, has a completion percentage of .600, and sports a passer
efficiency rating of 142.1 entering the MAC title game.

There’s no denying that Da’Ron Brown is Hare’s favorite weapon through the
air. The pass catcher has hauled in 55 receptions in 12 games for a team-best
932 yards and six touchdowns this season, and is averaging 77.7 receiving ypg
– over 50 yards on average more than anyone else on the squad. Juwan Brescacin
has hauled in four touchdowns on the year.

Defensively, the team held it together down the stretch run to keep the
Huskies in contention. The 21 points scored by Western Michigan was the most
by an opponent against NIU since the Huskies gave up 24 to Toledo a few weeks
back. The Broncos were no slouch offensively, and NIU coach Rod Carey knew
that.

“You have to give a ton of credit to our guys,” Carey said. “It would have
been easy to get down, but we knew what we had to do. Defense played great all
day, they got put in some tough positions a couple times [by the offense] but
they really had a mindset.”

The defense for Northern Illinois used the latter half of the season to drop
its opponent scoring average down to 24.2 ppg, and a strong secondary allowed
just 14 passing touchdowns this season while it picked off 11 passes. Safety
Marlon Moore led the way for the Huskies with a team-best 86 total tackles,
adding in two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Four
players for NIU this season notched a pair of interceptions, including
cornerback Paris Logan, who had a team-high 13 pass breakups. Lineman Jason
Meehan dominated up front with 9.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He’ll be
needed to slow down a strong Bowling Green run game.

The Falcons utilized a well-rounded offensive attack this season to earn their
spot in the title game. The run game for Bowling Green averages 180.6 ypg, and
has scored an impressive 27 times this season. Travis Greene, a MAC preseason
all-conference selection, led the team with 803 rushing yards and nine
touchdowns this season, even though he missed a few contests due to injury.
Andre Givens stepped in and played well in his absence, checking in right
behind the star Green with eight rushing scores. Givens needs just 26 yards to
be the third 500-yard rusher on Bowling Green this season, which would be the
first time in Falcons history that has happened.

James Knapke filled in very well at quarterback after starter Matt Johnson
went down earlier in the year. Knapke has thrown for 2,654 yards, 12
touchdowns and has tossed 10 interceptions. He’s the architect behind a 30.8
ppg offense for the Falcons.

Through the air, Knapke has utilized star receivers Roger Lewis (66
receptions, 934 yards, five touchdowns) and Ronnie Moore (49 receptions, 598
yards, five touchdowns) well. They make up 10 of the team’s 14 touchdowns
through the air this season. The matchup between two very capable offensive
teams for the MAC title is something that Bowling Green coach Dino Babers
thinks will highlight the championship contest.

“We’re excited about the matchup,” Babers said. “We think we have earned the
right to be here. We have the opportunity to right some wrongs.”

But Bowling Green’s defense hasn’t been as strong as the team would have
liked, especially as of late. The Falcons enter the championship game allowing
opponents to score 32.5 ppg and gain just shy of 500 yards per outing
offensively. In fact, the Falcons haven’t held a challenger to fewer than 20
points in a single game since a 27-10 victory over in-state rival Akron in
early November.

Linebacker Gabe Martin paces the Falcons this season with exactly 100 tackles
through 12 contests. But Martin has shown his versatility in getting through
to an opponents’ backfield, registering 15 tackles for loss (a team high) with
two interceptions, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. Lineman
Bryan Thomas is the only other Bowling Green player to add a double-digit
tackles for loss total to his season resume, notching 13 stops behind the line
of scrimmage with a team-best six sacks. True freshmen Nick Johnson (five
interceptions) and Clint Stephens (three interceptions) are two of just 10
freshmen in the entire FBS that have at least three picks this season. They’ll
be active against Hare, but should focus plenty of energy against the run
game.

The way Bowling Green has played lately is a bit concerning, especially on the
defensive side of the ball against teams that are notoriously good in the run
game. Northern Illinois will be seeking revenge for last season’s loss in the
title game that also ended its perfect season.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northern Illinois 36, Bowling Green 28