An absolute bowl game disaster the last several seasons — losing five in a row dating to 2011, four in ugly blowouts — Northern Illinois has a whole lot to prove.
The MAC champions ended the regular season with a thrilling comeback win against Buffalo, but can the offense be consistently good for a full four quarters? Northern Illinois averages a little less than 21 points per game and has one of the country’s worst downfield passing games, averaging 9.3 yards per completion.
But NIU’s defense is a killer, with the nation’s best pass rush — cranking out 50 sacks — and holding teams 17 or fewer points six times.
Alabama-Birmingham is coming off a strong Conference USA championship win against Middle Tennessee, culminating an amazing two-season turnaround.
Like NIU, UAB lives on defense, finishing second in the nation in third-down stops and going through a brilliant midseason stretch in which it allowed seven or fewer points in five of six games. The pass rush finished fourth in the nation in sacks and fifth in tackles for loss.
But the offense is inconsistent. It averages 400 yards a game, but does npt blow up for big points or explosive plays.
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