January 1, 2010

International Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. South Florida

MORE: Bowl schedule/results

Usually, teams head south to play in a postseason game. USF is taking it to the extreme the other way.

USF, which is based in Tampa, meets Northern Illinois in Saturday's International Bowl in Toronto.

USF plays its home games at Raymond James Stadium, which is the home stadium of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and hosts the Outback Bowl every season. The International Bowl is at the Rogers Centre, which is home to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Though the game will be played indoors, USF still was bracing for cold weather. The temperature Saturday in Tampa is expected to be around 60 degrees; the high in Toronto is expected to be around 16. USF coach Jim Leavitt joked with reporters that he told his players, "The sun will be out - but it might be a little cooler."

This is USF's fifth bowl in a row. NIU, meanwhile, is in its second consecutive bowl, its third in four seasons and its fifth all-time.

Big East schools are 3-0 against the MAC in the 4-year-old International Bowl, with Cincinnati, Connecticut and Rutgers beating Western Michigan, Ball State and Buffalo, respectively.


Northern Illinois run offense vs. USF run defense: Chad Spann has run for 945 yards and 19 TDs, and he has scored in all but two games this season. NIU has a solid interior line and rushed for 380 yards in two games against Big Six opponents. USF's run defense was inconsistent; the Bulls did a good job against West Virginia and Connecticut but were carved up by, among others, Rutgers and Western Kentucky.
Edge: Even


Northern Illinois (7-5)
vs. USF (7-5)

WHEN: Noon, Saturday.
WHERE: Rogers Centre, Toronto.
TV: ESPN2 (Mike Gleason will do play-by-play, with John Congemi as the analyst).
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Northern Illinois 0-4, USF 2-5.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Northern Illinois 114th, USF 42nd.
BCS RANKING: Both are unranked.
REFEREES: A crew from the Big 12.
COACHES: Northern Illinois- Jerry Kill (0-1 in bowls). USF- Jim Leavitt (2-2 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: If you're starved for football after the feast that was New Year's Day, then by all means watch. But you need to be really starved to watch this.
KEY STATS: NIU is plus-eight in turnover margin. USF is minus-one and committed 12 turnovers - including eight picks - in its five losses.
KEEP AN EYE ON: USF DEs George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul bear watching. Selvie went into the season as an All-America candidate, but Pierre-Paul - a junior college transfer - has emerged as a big-play guy. Their speed will be tough for NIU to handle.
Northern Illinois pass offense vs. USF pass defense: NIU doesn't throw the ball all that effectively. Landon Cox is the only receiver USF really needs to worry about. FS Nate Allen is the best player in USF's secondary. DEs George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul can bring the heat off the edge, but NIU has done a nice job protecting QB Chandler Harnish, who has good mobility.
Edge: USF

USF run offense vs. Northern Illinois run defense: The Bulls ran the ball relatively well this season. QB B.J. Daniels is a dual threat, Moise Plancher is a tough runner and Mike Ford played well in the regular-season finale. NIU has been stingy against the run. The only team that truly gashed the Huskies was Central Michigan, in the regular-season finale. Wisconsin ran for 152 on NIU.
Edge: Even

USF pass offense vs. Northern Illinois pass defense: Daniels, a redshirt freshman, is a work-in-progress as a passer. Still, he has a good arm, and if he gets time, he will hurt NIU. There is a deep receiving corps. But there is no go-to guy, and USF receivers seemingly have two or three inexplicable drops each week. USF should be able to take some deep shots on the Huskies, who have allowed 16 TD passes and have just eight picks. Worth watching is NIU's pass rush. USF's line has had trouble in pass protection, and the Huskies have some good pass rushers.
Edge: USF

Northern Illinois special teams vs. USF special teams: NIU K Mike Salerno has a strong leg and is 18-of-23 this season, including a 50-yarder. But he also has had two kicks blocked. Salerno doubles as the punter and is OK in that role. Tommy Davis is NIU's return man; he is much better on kick returns than punt returns. The punt-coverage team is lax, but the kick coverage has been solid. USF is using walk-on Eric Schwartz at kicker. He has a strong but erratic leg. P Delbert Alvarado generally does an OK job. The return units aren't that good, especially considering how many athletes there are on this roster. The punt coverage is the worst in the nation (21.0 yards per return), though the kick coverage has been good. USF has blocked three kicks this season.
Edge: Northern Illinois

Northern Illinois coaching staff vs. USF coaching staff: Second-year coach Jerry Kill has NIU in a bowl for the second season in a row after turning Southern Illinois into a solid FCS program. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys does a nice job. USF's Jim Leavitt was in the news in mid-December for alleged mistreatment of players, but that story has died down. USF had new coordinators this season, and the units of Mike Canales (offense) and Joe Tresey (defense) struggled at times.
Edge: USF

X-factor: USF's mindset is important. The Bulls started 5-0 before - as usual - going into a late-season skid. Are they going to be up for a MAC squad that didn't win a game over a bowl team this season?

Northern Illinois will win if: Spann and the rushing attack need to control the ball and the clock. NIU is not going to win throwing the ball, and the Huskies also are going to have trouble with USF's team speed. Spann has to have a big game and get into the end zone two or three times.

USF will win if: The Bulls simply need to take care of business. Yes, they have the same record as NIU, but they have better players and have played better competition. USF needs to take care of the ball and get some big plays from its passing attack.

Olin Buchanan: USF 21, Northern Illinois 14
Tom Dienhart: USF 28, Northern Illinois 24
David Fox: Northern Illinois 17, USF 10
Mike Huguenin: USF 31, NIU 20
Steve Megargee: USF 24, Northern Illinois 10

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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