SAN DIEGO - Utah State and Northern Illinois will meet in the 9th annual Poinsettia Bowl which kicks off at 9:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, December 26 and will be televised on ESPN.
"We are so excited to be matching two conference division champs in this year's game," said Geppert. "While the paths each school took to get to San Diego may have differed a bit, these two teams had tremendous season and will surely put on quite a show at Qualcomm Stadium."
The game matches division winners from the Mountain West and the Mid-American Conferences.
Utah State (8-5, 7-1), the No. 42 team in the Congrove Computer Rankings, battled through plenty of adversity during the 2013 season to qualify for its third straight bowl game, which is a school record. After starting the season with a 3-4 mark and losing five offensive starters to season-ending injuries including Heisman Trophy candidate in junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, the Aggies won its final five games of the regular season to win the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference and advance to the inaugural Mountain West Football Championship Game, where it lost at 24th-ranked Fresno State, 24-17.
Utah State has relied on its defense to win games as the Aggies rank among the top 25 defenses in the nation in five different statistical categories including seventh in the nation in scoring defense (17.3 ppg), 11th in the nation in total defense (332.1 ypg) and rushing defense (107.3 ypg), 14th in the nation in passing efficiency defense (113.22), and 23rd in the nation passing defense (224.8 ypg).
Highlighting Utah State's defense is a pair of former walk-ons at the inside linebacker positions in senior Jake Doughty and junior Zach Vigil, as Doughty ranks ninth in the nation with 10.8 tackles per game (140) and Vigil ranks tied for 39th nationally with 8.8 tackles per game (115). USU also features one of the top cornerbacks in the nation in senior Nevin Lawson who has four interceptions on the season and ranks tied for 10th in the nation with 1.31 passes defended per game.
Offensively, Utah State produced its third-straight 1,000-yard rusher in senior running back Joey DeMartino who has carried the ball 198 times for 1,078 yards (5.4 ypc) with 12 touchdowns on the season, as the Aggies start four seniors on the offensive line including two-time first-team all-league center in Tyler Larsen. Overall, USU's offense ranks tied for 37th in the nation in scoring (32.6 ppg), 41st nationally in rushing offense (178.8 ypg) and 49th in the nation in total offense (420.9 ypg).
Northern Illinois (12-1, 8-0), ranked No. 16 in the Congrove Computer Rankings, will play in a MAC record sixth-straight bowl game after opening the season with a school-record 12 consecutive victories behind dynamic dual-threat Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch. Lynch, who has run for an NCAA quarterback record 1,881 yards and passed for 2,676 while rushing for 22 scores and passing for 23, leads the nation's fifth-ranked offense into San Diego. The two-time MAC MVP and 3rd-place finisher in balloting this year for the Heisman Trophy, Lynch has set four NCAA records this season.
Lynch leads the most prolific offense in NIU history as receivers Tommylee Lewis (80 catches) and Da'Ron Brown (nine touchdowns, 16.4 yards/catch) and fellow 1,000-yard rusher Cameron Stingily complement his abilities. Defensively, the Huskies feature one of the top safeties in the MAC in senior Jimmie Ward, who has six of NIU's 17 interceptions on the season and leads NIU with 89 tackles. Defensive tackle Ken Bishop is a force in the middle with 65 stops as the Huskies have held six of their last eight opponents to 20 points or less.
The Congrove Computer Rankings give Utah State a 4.04-point advantage in the contest.