Northern Illinois will try to follow up its MAC championship with another victory in the 2018 Boca Raton Bowl against UAB on Tuesday night. The teams will meet atFAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida, in a matchup featuring two conference champions.
The Huskies rebounded from a 1-3 start to the season to win the MAC’s West Division with a 6-2 conference record, then defeated Buffalo, 30-29, in the title game. Tre Harbison led a strong running game with 985 rushing yards and four touchdowns and quarterback Marcus Childers proved to be a solid weapon by throwing for 1,996 yards and running for another 496.
However, it’s the defense that ultimately carried Northern Illinois to its 10th bowl appearance in 11 seasons. Defensive end Sutton Smith continued to be a force by leading the FBS with 15 sacks a year after his breakout junior season. Smith’s numbers over the past two years are spectacular: 29 sacks, seven forced fumbles, 54.5 tackles for loss and 119 overall tackles in 26 games.
UAB boasts an even better defense in terms of points per game allowed – 10th in the nation vs. NIU’s 27th – which powered it to a 10-3 record and Conference USA title. A weak passing game has been buoyed by star running back Spencer Brown, who racked up 1,152 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
For both teams, this will be a chance to shake off some bowl game demons. UAB, which had been dead as a program not too long ago, has never won a bowl game. Northern Illinois doesn’t have that kind of history to tend with, but the Huskies have been similarly snakebitten of late with five consecutive bowl game losses dating back to their appearance in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
Here’s how to watch NIU close out its season in Boca Raton on Tuesday night.
Northern Illinois vs. UAB, 2018 Boca Raton Bowl
Time: 6 p.m. CT
Live stream: WatchESPN