Boca Raton Bowl Preview


The Thundering Herd of Marshall would probably be playing in a top tier bowl as a highly rated “mid-major” had they not last an overtime heartbreaker to Western Kentucky over Thanksgiving Weekend. That was the only blemish on their 12-1 card. Given their computer ratings, a 13-0 sweep would have pushed them into the limelight.

Boise State ended up as the top mid-major, which earned them a Fiesta Bowl berth against Arizona. Marshall has to settle for Mid-American champion Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl. Big difference! Marshall/Northern Illinois isn’t even the featured prime time it will set the table for the Poinsettia Bowl matching San Diego State and Navy that will start later in the evening.

Will Marshall show up with a chip on its shoulder (or two or three!) intent on sending a message as a double digit favorite? Or, will the tendency to make badly time mistakes against the likes of UAB, Western Kentucky, and even Louisiana Tech in a tighter-than-expected CUSA Championship make this another game the Thundering Herd has to sweat? Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about this game you’ll be watching on ESPN.

Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
Northern Illinois: 11-2 (#131 schedule in USA Today)
Marshall: 12-1 (#129 schedule in USA Today)

Both teams played very soft schedules. And, we have to admit that it would have been a bit of a scandal if Marshall had been allowed to play in a major bowl. Stick them in a major conference, and their high risk offense would lose the ball a lot more often. Northern Illinois was in a similar situation not too long ago. They were demanding national respect for a great record before Florida State humbled them in the Orange Bowl. Marshall would have been humbled by a top 20 team. Facing a schedule of mostly weak opposition doesn’t prepare you for a bowl game vs. a good team.

Northern Illinois: 5.8 on offense, 5.4 on defense
Marshall: 7.7 on offense, 4.7 on defense

Marshall did do a great job of abusing its soft schedule. Their high risk/high reward offense was rewarded often vs. bad defenses. Northern Illinois has HORRIBLE numbers considering its schedule. Though, it has to be said that the team clicked well late in the season. They performed much better than those numbers in their MAC Championship victory. Edge to Marshall, but probably not by as much as those full season numbers make it look. Marshall peaked early, while Northern peaked late.

Turnover Differential
Northern Illinois: +12
Marshall: -2

This is why Northern Illinois managed such a great record with unimpressive yardage stats. They played very clean on offense, and exploited mistakes made by opponents. Marshall lost the ball 24 times, compared to just 12 for Northern Illinois. This category is one that could be the key to the big underdog staying close or springing an upset. If Marshall avoids giveaways, they win by at least two touchdowns. If not, Northern has a real shot here.

Market Performance
Northern Illinois: 7-6 ATS
Marshall: 8-5 ATS

Marshall was 8-2 ATS until its very sluggish end to the season (missing the mark by 12.5, 24.5, and 5 points against UAB, Western Kentucky, and Louisiana Tech). Northern Illinois was 4-6 ATS until its hot finish (covering by 6, 18, and 29 against Ohio, Western Michigan, and Bowling Green. Handicappers will need to think long and hard about how important recent form will be in this matchup.  

Current Line: Marshall by 10, total of 67

The market is clearly weighting Marshall’s full season excellence over recent form with that number. The game might be closer to a field goal if you were only counting the past three games for each team. Is that the right way to look at it? Or, is Marshall so talented that a few weeks of rest should put them right back into juggernaut mode?

JIM HURLEY is working very closely with his full team of experts to make sure clients get the best side or total the best option in Tuesday’s Poinsettia Bowl matching San Diego State and Navy. You’ll be able to purchase Tuesday's final word right here at the website with your credit card. Better yet, click here to get all the rest of the Bowls, NFL Playoffs and this weekend's NFL action at one low price. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453 during the day Tuesday before the 6 p.m. ET kickoff in Boca Raton. (Don’t forget to ask about early season basketball! Oddsmakers are struggling badly in both college and pro hoops)

The bowl barrage continues tomorrow and all week here in the NOTEBOOK. Here’s what’s ahead...

Wednesday: Hawaii Bowl Preview...Fresno State vs. Rice
Christmas Day: Early Look...Rutgers vs. North Carolina in Friday’s Quick Lane Bowl
Friday: St. Petersburg Bowl Preview...North Carolina State vs. Central Florida
Saturday: Holiday Bowl Preview...Nebraska vs USC
Sunday: NFL TV Preview...Cincinnati at Pittsburgh on NBC
Monday: Texas Bowl Preview...Arkansas vs. Texas on ESPN
Tuesday: Early Look...#6 TCU vs. #9 Ole Miss in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on ESPN

You’ve been waiting weeks for the bowls to arrive. Now that they’re here, be sure you GET ALL THE MONEY with BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!


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