Utah St.-N. Illinois Preview

Led by Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois

can set the single-season school record for victories – though it

would come one game later than they would have liked.

Having just missed out on a second consecutive BCS bowl bid, the

No. 24 Huskies expect a serious challenge against Utah State and

its stout defense in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night in San

Diego.

After finishing 12-2 and losing 31-10 to Florida State in the

Orange Bowl last season, Northern Illinois (12-1) was again in

position to bust the BCS before losing 47-27 to Bowling Green in

the Mid-American Conference title game Dec. 6. Averaging 42.8

points and 542.3 total yards heading into that contest, the Huskies

were held to 454 yards and matched their lowest point total of the

year while allowing a season high.

“(That) game doesn’t define us – we’re not going to let it,”

coach Rod Carey said. “We’ve got another game. We still have a lot

to play for.”

Making a MAC-record sixth straight bowl appearance, NIU will try

for a school-record 13th win in Lynch’s collegiate swan song.

The senior topped his own FBS single-season rushing record for a

quarterback of 1,815 yards from 2012 by gaining 1,881 this season.

He set the FBS single-game rushing mark for a quarterback with 316

yards against Central Michigan on Oct. 19, then topped it with 321

versus Western Michigan on Nov. 26.

Lynch, who needs 119 rushing yards to become the first player in

NCAA history to run and throw for 2,000 in the same season,

accounted for 46 touchdowns rushing, passing and receiving in 2013.

He’s one of five players in NCAA history with 20 rushing and 20

passing TDs in a season.

While going 24-3 the last two seasons as a starter, Lynch has

compiled 9,510 yards and 89 touchdowns on the ground and through

the air.

Though he was held to 126 yards on 26 carries and threw two

interceptions in the league title game, Lynch’s third-place finish

in the Heisman voting is the highest in MAC history.

“It’s hard to get selected from a non-(automatic qualifying

conference),” said Lynch, who finished seventh last season. “One of

the biggest things is you have to win games, have a winning team

and your stats have to separate you from the bigger schools.

“I knew if I had a chance (to be a Heisman finalist) it would be

a good individual season, and I knew it would take a great year as

a team for us.”

With a defense among the top 10 in the FBS in points (17.3) and

rushing yards (107.3) allowed per game, Utah State (8-5) is eager

for the challenge of trying to contain Lynch and the Huskies.

“They are very well-coached and obviously very talented,” coach

Matt Wells told the school’s official website.

The Aggies’ school-record third straight bowl appearance also

comes against a third consecutive MAC opponent. Playing in the

Idaho Potato Bowl each of the last two seasons, Utah State lost

24-23 to Ohio in 2011 and beat Toledo 41-15 in 2012.

It didn’t seem like the Aggies would have any postseason plans

while sitting 3-4 and without star quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who

suffered a season-ending knee injury during a 31-14 loss to BYU on

Oct. 4. However, with freshman Darell Garretson at the helm, Utah

State outscored opponents 168-51 during a five-game winning streak

that ended with a 24-17 loss to then-No. 24 Fresno State in the

first Mountain West Conference title game Dec. 7.

“It’s a tremendous group of young men,” said Wells, the MWC

coach of the year. “The thing that I’m proud of is they continue to

move this program little by little, step by step.

“We’ve just got a lot of fighters, kids who continue to

play.”

Senior Joey DeMartino became Utah State’s third-straight

1,000-yard rusher with 1,078 and 12 touchdowns.

Garretson completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,325 yards

with nine TDs and five INTs in seven games, but he could sit out

after enduring a helmet-to-helmet hit against Fresno State. Junior

Craig Harrison, who has played in seven games and went 4 of 9 for

55 yards with a late interception in the league title game, could

start if Garretson is out.

The Aggies have a 2-6 all-time bowl record while the Huskies are

5-8.

Utah State won the only previous meeting with NIU, 42-7 on Oct.

14, 1995.