Arkansas State (10-2) vs. Northern Illinois (10-3)
Sunday, January 8th, 9:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Conference champions will be meeting for bragging rights in this year's GoDaddy.com Bowl as the Sun Belt Champion Arkansas State Red Wolves will square off with the Northern Illinois Huskies of the Mid-American Conference.
The bowl was formerly known as the GMAC Bowl until last year. In 2001, the bowl set a record for the highest scoring post-season game of all time as Marshall defeated ECU 64-61 in double overtime. Although that is a high tally, it is not impossible that the record is in jeopardy as these two juggernaut offenses square off.
Arkansas State is 10-2 and on a nine-game winning streak. Its last loss was Sept. 17 to Virginia Tech as it went undefeated in Sun Belt Conference play to earn its first ever outright title. Running backs coach David Gunn will be the interim head coach for the bowl game after Hugh Freeze took the head coaching position at Ole Miss. This will be Arkansas State's first bowl appearance since 2005.
Northern Illinois is on an eight-game winning streak after it lost its MAC opener to Central Michigan in a shoot out. The Huskies come into the bowl with a 10-3 record after rallying from 20 down to win the MAC Championship game 23-20 over Ohio University for their first conference title in 28 years. First year head coach Dave Doeren had a great deal of success this season as he led the program to its fourth-straight bowl appearance.
These programs are not complete strangers as it will be their eighth all-time meeting. Northern Illinois has won six of the previous seven encounters.
Arkansas State had the 23rd best attacks in the nation and the best in the Sun Belt with an average of 453.2 yards of total offense per game. The Red Wolves averaged 33.5 points per game, and they have scored 30 or more in six-straight outings. Ryan Aplin is the driving force for Arkansas State. The junior quarterback is ranked 10th in the nation in total offense per game as he led the team in passing (3,235 yards, 18 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 65.5 percent completion rate) and rushing (605 yards, nine touchdowns). Aplin was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year.
Aplin credited to his teammates for his success.
"I can throw two-yard passes that turn into 10 or 15 yard gains. It definitely makes my job easier how many unbelievable athletes we have on this team that can make big plays. You put the ball in these guys hands its tough for defenses to scheme for it"
Dwayne Frampton, Josh Jarboe, and Taylor Stockemer made up the best trio of receivers in the Sun Belt. Frampton led the conference as was ranked 18th nationally after gaining 1125 yards and six touchdowns on 90 catches. Jarboe and Stockemer were both in the top 10 in the Sun Belt as well. Although the offense is primarily uses an air-it-out philosophy, Derek Lawson will get in the mix. Lawson is 92 yards away from 2,000 career rushing yards.
While the Red Wolves are very impressive on offense, they might be even better on the defensive side of the ball as they ranked either first or second in their conference in every defensive statistical category. Opponents managed to gain just 325.7 yards of total offense and score 19.3 points per game against Arkansas State this year. Brandon Joiner makes a huge impact as ranked fourth in the nation with 12 total sacks and second in the SBC with 15.5 tackles for loss.
Northern Illinois has a very similar design to its opponent offensively. Chandler Harnish led the Huskies in passing and rushing to rank eighth nationally in total offense per game with 332.6 yards per game. Harnish led his team to the eighth best offense and 13th highest scoring offense in the nation. Harnish set more than 20 school records during his four years. Harnish has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for a career-high 2,942 yards and rushed for 1,382 while having a hand in 37 touchdowns - 11 rushing and 26 passing.
Harnish mentioned the importance of his team's experience and the influence it had on their performance this season,
" We've been down in games before and I think it is a blessing in disguise to play those close games throughout the year and learn resiliency."
Three different Huskies have caught 39 or more passes. Nathan Palmer led the wideouts with a career-high 46 catches, for 683 yards and seven scores. Jasmin Hopkins is one of the top running backs in the MAC. Hopkins has run for 932 yards and 15 touchdowns on 178 carries.
The Huskies' defense was not very consistent this season. Northern Illinois ranked 89th in the nation in yards of total offense allowed (417.8 per game) and points allowed (31 per game). The Huskies gave up over 500 yards to its opponents five different times. In the MAC Championship game, Northern Illinois' defense allowed Ohio to gain 372 yards of total offense, but held it to 20 points and collected three interceptions. Senior linebacker Pat Schiller is the anchor of the defense with a team-best 108 tackles.
Arkansas State has not really had a tough test since October. This should be a shootout between two talented quarterbacks who both just know how to win. Games such as these are usually determined by whoever has the ball last.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas State 41, Northern Illinois 38
01/04 09:49:54 ET