Most of Northern Illinois' players and coaches will gladly accept a bid to play in bowl games most every season, but especially following a trying 2015 campaign. The Huskies lost their last two games, including to Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference Championship game, and were resorted to walk-on true freshman quarterback Tommy Fielder handling most of the snaps in the final two games.
The Huskies, who have won 65 games over the last six seasons, will play Boise State (8-4) in the 2015 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The matchup against the Mountain West Conference team will be aired nationally on ESPN.
"The [San Diego County Credit Union] Poinsettia Bowl is a first-class bowl and we're very excited to go back out to San Diego and play a quality opponent in Boise State," NIU coach Rod Carey said. "We look forward to having the opportunity to send our seniors out the right way. This group of seniors has played in four straight MAC Championships, with two victories, and now in four straight bowl games. I know they will be focused on ending their careers on a high note."
The Huskies (8-5) are making their third appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl, with their previous two games both resulting in losses. In fact, the Huskies have lost their last three bowl games, including a 31-10 decision to Florida State in the 2012 Orange Bowl, with their last win coming in a 38-20 triumph over Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in 2011. The Huskies have experience on their side, with the Poinsettia Bowl appearance marking the 10th bowl game in the last 12 years, and a conference-record of eight straight bowl trips.
The Huskies enter the game with marquee conference wins over Toledo and Western Michigan, while playing then-No. 1 Ohio State to a close game in Columbus and battling Boston College to the final seconds. On offense, the Huskies have to sort out their quarterback position. In fall camp, Fielder was the sixth string quarterback, but season-ending injuries to Anthony Maddie and Drew Hare forced redshirt freshman Kent Graham to enter the Toledo game. Graham, though, suffered a leg injury in the third quarter of the Ohio loss, and did not play in the MAC title game to Bowling Green.
Fielder was 9-for-17 for 113 yards and a touchdown in the defeat to the Bobcats, and in his first career start, he was 12-of-28 passing for 152 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Whether Graham can return or not for the bowl game, but the extra two-plus weeks of practice should help Fielder's development. Running back Joel Bouagnon ran the ball just 14 times for 57 yards against Bowling Green, thought the Falcons' fast start 21-0 at halftime forced the Huskies to pass the ball early in the game.
Boise State became a household name in college football after defeating Oklahoma and Adrian Peterson in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. Freshman quarterback Brett Rypien, the nephew of former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, passed for nearly 300 yards a game and threw 17 touchdowns this season for Boise State. Wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck was named all-conference after catching 82 passes for 1,334 yards and eight touchdowns and running back Jeremy Nichols rushed for a team-high 1,244 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The Huskies relish another opportunity to get back on the field after losing their last two games. The Huskies also lost to Bowling Green in the 2013 MAC championship game.
"I think there was a lot of disappointment because we lost a chance to go to the Fiesta Bowl (in 2013)," Carey said. "There was a lot of disappointment (after Friday's loss to Bowling Green), but we'll see how they bounce back.