The game is one of three bowl matchups with two conference champions. The UAB Blazers won the Conference USA title for the first time after their program was reinstated last season following a two-year hiatus. They’re playing in their third bowl game and seeking their first bowl win. The Northern Illinois Huskies, who won the Mid-American Conference, will play in a bowl game for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons. They’re trying to end a streak of five consecutive bowl losses.
Two-time 1,000-yard rusher Spencer Brown, only a sophomore, needs 340 yards to become UAB’s all-time leading rusher. The Huskies have held their opponent to less than 100 yards rushing in seven games, and rank sixth in the nation in tackles for loss.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Northern Illinois: Junior DE Sutton Smith is a first-team All-American who leads the nation with 15 sacks. He also has 24.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered, including one returned 85 yards for a touchdown. He has 30 career sacks and can break Larry English’s school record of 31.5.
UAB: Brown has rushed for 1,149 yards and a school-record 16 touchdowns, which ranks sixth nationally. He has 26 career rushing touchdowns in 26 games.
The Huskies lead the country with 50 sacks, and the Blazers rank fourth with 43. … UAB’s 10 wins are a school record. … The Blazers are ranked 10th in total defense. … NIU has been outscored this season by 11 points and outgained by 297 yards. … They’re allowing 238 yards passing per game. … The Huskies boast a strength of schedule of 65th after playing Iowa, Utah, Florida State and BYU. … NIU rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit to beat Buffalo 30-29 in the MAC championship game. Marcus Childers threw four TD passes in the win and has 15 this season. Smith tied his career high in the game with 10 tackles and had two sacks. … UAB beat Middle Tennessee 27-25 in the Conference USA championship game. Brown ran for 156 yards and a touchdown.
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