UAB-Northern Illinois Betting Guide: Elite Defenses Clash in Boca Raton Bowl

UAB-Northern Illinois Betting Guide: Elite Defenses Clash in Boca Raton Bowl article feature image
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USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Spencer Brown and Sutton Smith

2018 Boca Raton Bowl Odds: UAB-Northern Illinois

  • Odds: UAB -2.5
  • Over/Under: 42.5
  • Date: Tuesday, Dec. 18
  • Time: 7 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN

>> All odds as of Monday afternoon. Download The Action Network App to get real-time bowl odds and win probabilities on your bets.


What happens when an immovable object meets an immovable object? Great question.

Two of the Group of 5’s best defenses will face off Tuesday night in the Boca Raton Bowl when UAB plays Northern Illinois. The Blazers are in their second bowl game since the program shut down a few years ago, while NIU looks to capture its first bowl win under coach Rod Carey in his sixth try.

Market Moves for UAB-Northern Illinois

By Danny Donahue

With 72% of bettors on its side, UAB is among the most popular picks of bowl season so far. Those bets have accounted for a slightly lower majority of actual dollars wagered (66%), but they’ve still been enough to move this line from its opener of -1 to -2.5.

As for the total, it’s fallen from 44 to 42.5 behind a hefty under backing of 68% of bets and 90% of dollars.

Trends to Know for Boca Raton Bowl

By John Ewing

More than 70% of spread tickets are on UAB. Since 2005, teams receiving 70% or more of bets in a bowl game have gone 27-44-1 (38%) ATS.

By Evan Abrams

The Boca Raton Bowl between UAB and Northern Illinois is the only bowl matchup between two teams that had at least 60% of their games going under the total this season.

Since 2005, the under is 11-16 (40.7%) in this spot, going over the total by 2.0 points per game. The last five bowl games in this spot dating back to 2016 has gone over the total.

By Stuckey

MAC teams are 23-37-3 ATS (38.3%) in bowl games since 2005 — failing to cover by almost five points (-4.68) per game on average. That 23.7% ROI is the lowest among any conference in our database.

Will NIU’s Non-Conference Schedule Help Here?

By Steve Petrella

NIU purposely schedules a brutal non-conference schedule every year, which is why you’ll often see the Huskies finish 7-5 and win the MAC. In four of the last five years, the Huskies have played at least two Power 5 teams, and this year, they played:

  • at Iowa
  • Utah
  • at Florida State
  • at BYU

UAB on the other hand played at Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina and FCS Savannah State.

This tough scheduling hasn’t led to any bowl success for NIU in the past — coach Rod Carey is 0-5 against the spread and straight-up — but the Huskies’ season-long metrics are dragged down a bit by that brutal schedule, particularly on offense, since those four all have top-50 defenses.

NIU Offense Showed Improvements Late

By Steve Petrella

Because of that brutal schedule, I think NIU’s offensive metrics are being weighed down just a bit too much. S&P+ ranks it 115th overall — I don’t think it’s quite that bad. Maybe top-100.

After not averaging more than 5.1 yards per play in any of their first eight games, the Huskies topped that in four of their last five.

Quarterback Marcus Childers had his best game of the season in the MAC Championship Game against an underrated Buffalo defense, throwing for 300 yards and four scores. It was the second time all year NIU had thrown for more than 200 yards in a game.

Clash of Elite Defenses, Pass Rushers

By Stuckey

These two defenses rank in the top five nationally in Adjusted Sack Rate. NIU actually led FBS with 50 sacks, while UAB had the fourth most (43).

Both are elite when it comes to getting after the quarterback. That’s worse news for NIU, as their offensive line has struggled much more in protection this season (117th in Adjusted Sack Rate, while UAB is middle of the pack at No. 60).

By Steve Petrella

Both these defenses were the best in their conference, which is why they won their conference. Go figure.

But did UAB’s slip up a little to end the season? The Blazers gave up 41 points and 8.2 yards per play to Texas A&M. We’ll give them a pass in the finale against Middle Tennessee State, when they allowed 6.2 yards per play but had already clinched their division and didn’t seem interested in that game.

But in the Conference USA Championship Game, UAB gave up 6.6 yards per play and 25 points to MTSU, and had just two sacks.

Here’s UAB’s yards per play allowed log for the season. The last three aren’t comforting.

Mismatch: NIU Won’t Hit Big Plays

By Stuckey

UAB’s biggest issue on defense has been containing explosive plays (117th IsoPPP+), but NIU is one of the least explosive teams in the country (128th in IsoPPP+).

Who’s More Motivated?

By Stuckey

UAB has never won a bowl game in program history. After having their program shut down, the Blazers made their second bowl ever last year, but got absolutely trounced by another MAC team (Ohio), 41-6.

And while NIU has lost five straight bowls and may be looking to avenge a blowout loss of its own last year (36-14 to Duke), this just doesn’t mean as much to the Huskies’ program. UAB gets the edge here.

Bet to Watch

By Stuckey

I don’t think either team will be able to establish the run against two solid run defenses (both rank in the top 25 in yards per rush), which means it will come down to the passing games of both teams. And that doesn’t bode well for either offensive line. Ultimately, I think both defensive front dominate this game by stuffing the running game and then relentlessly getting after the QB.

I trust the UAB passing offense a little more and the NIU OL is at a much greater disadvantage. Give me the Blazers, who I think will be more motivated, and the fairly obvious under. Trust in Bill Clark.

Stuckey’s Picks: Under 43, UAB -2.5

By Collin Wilson

UAB is sixth in standard downs run rate, making running back Spencer Brown the biggest weapon on the Blazers offense. Brown had 1,149 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.

But that plays into the Huskies defense, which is sixth in S&P+ rush defense with a rating of 21st against explosive plays on the ground. Northern Illinois defensive end Sutton Smith is the star of the Boca Raton Bowl, with a ridiculous 24.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks on the season.

Both teams are top 10 in the nation in overall defensive success rate, but it’s Northern Illinois that excels in limiting explosiveness.

The Action Network power ratings make this game a pick em, while the market has not budged from UAB -2.5. The under has taken plenty of money for a reason, as both teams rank 12th or better in defensive finishing drives. Both teams also rank top 5 in sack rate, which should benefit Northern Illinois against a UAB offensive line that ranks 60th in sack rate.

I will be taking Northern Illinois with the points, waiting for a flat +3 to show in the market. Expect a low scoring game with highly rated red zone defense, plenty of havoc, third down defense and spotty offensive inefficiency.

Quarterback Marcus Childers often uses his mobility under pressure, running for 778 yards and six touchdowns on the season. With plenty of higher level competition on their schedule, expect Northern Illinois to be ready to make timely plays and cover this game.

Collin’s Pick: NIU +3 or better