Arkansas St.-N. Illinois Preview

Aside from the No. 1 team in the nation, there are not many

schools playing better than Arkansas State or Northern Illinois

heading into the final bowl before the BCS championship game.

Two of the country’s hottest teams take the field when the Red

Wolves and Huskies meet for the first time in more than 15 years at

the Bowl on Sunday night in Mobile, Ala.

One night before top-ranked LSU puts its 13-0 record on the line

in a rematch with No. 2 Alabama in the BCS title game, Arkansas

State and Northern Illinois look to extend two of the other

lengthier winning streaks in the nation.

Coming off an undefeated run through the Sun Belt Conference to

record its first 10-win season since 1986, Arkansas State (10-2)

has won nine straight since losing 26-7 at then-No. 13 Virginia

Tech on Sept. 17.

Northern Illinois (10-3), fresh off its first Mid-American

Conference championship since 1983, has won eight in a row since

opening league play with a 48-41 defeat at Central Michigan on Oct.


Both teams received votes in the most recent AP poll.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase our players and our

program on national television the night before the national

championship game,” first-year coach Dave Doeren told Northern

Illinois’ official website.

Representatives of this bowl may be even more excited

considering Northern Illinois averages 38.3 points and Arkansas

State 33.5. This matchup has the potential to feature more scoring

than the classic 2001 GMAC Bowl in Mobile when Marshall and East

Carolina combined for 125 points in double overtime.

The 64-61 Marshall victory still remains the highest-scoring

bowl game of all-time.

“We are looking forward to the possibility of breaking that

record this year with Arkansas State and Northern Illinois,” Bowl president Jerry Silverstein said.

That’s possible considering NIU has scored 40 or more points in

nine games, including a 63-60 win at Toledo on Nov. 1. The Huskies

rank 10th nationally with 481.8 yards per game and ninth with an

average of 247.6 rushing yards.

They boast one of the nation’s most versatile quarterbacks in

senior Chandler Harnish, the MAC offensive player of the year who

owns 20 school records. 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.

“His body of work stands apart as far as what he has done for

our team on and off the field,” Doeren said. “To have a guy that

has done as much for his football team is very special.”

Harnish was 17 of 26 for 300 yards with a touchdown pass and ran

for 72 yards and two TDs on 10 carries in a 40-17 win over Fresno

State in the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl.

Three Huskies receivers have caught at least 39 passes, led by

senior Nathan Palmer, who set career highs with 46 receptions, 683

yards and seven TDs.

Though NIU’s offense is hard to stop, its defense has had its

share of problems keeping the opposition in check. The Huskies rank

in the bottom third of the nation allowing 31.1 points per game.

However, they did not give up a second-half point in rallying from

20 down to beat Ohio 23-20 in the MAC championship game Dec. 2.

The Huskies now face a major challenge against an Arkansas State

squad that’s averaged 38.3 points over the last six games.

Like Harnish, Sun Belt offensive player of the year Ryan Aplin

proved to be a dual threat by passing for 3,235 yards with 18

touchdowns and running for a team-high 605 with nine scores for the

Red Wolves.

Aplin’s favorite target is senior Dwayne Frampton, who set a

school record with 1,125 receiving yards on 90 catches.

Sun Belt defensive player of the year Brandon Joiner ranks among

the national leaders with 12 sacks. The senior defensive end paces

a unit that gives up 19.3 points per game.

The Red Wolves hope to continue their success without coach Hugh

Freeze, who left to take the head coaching job at Mississippi.

Though former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was named

Arkansas State’s next coach Dec. 14, assistant David Gunn will

guide the team in Mobile.

“Everything is still OK at Arkansas State,” Gunn said. “It’s

time for us to move forward and that’s what we’ll do. We’ve got to

continue to improve on some of the things that we’re doing.”

With a 4-7 bowl record, NIU is making its fourth straight

postseason appearance. Arkansas State, meanwhile, fell 31-19 to

Southern Mississippi in the 2005 New Orleans Bowl in its only

previous bowl game.

NIU won 31-30 on Sept. 21, 1996, to improve to 6-1 against

Arkansas State.