Arkansas State represents the Sun Belt Conference and finished its season with a 6-6 campaign but enters this matchup coming off a 35-21 away loss to Marshall. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois needed to win their last two matchups for bowl eligibility and beat the Golden Flashes at Kent State 37-27 to qualify for this matchup.
Please join me as I break this down and share a free pick for Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois on Saturday, December 23.
Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois Transfer Portal, Opt-Outs and Injuries
As is often the case with postseason bowl games, the transfer portal has hit with both programs and players opting out of this game. Action Network has an accurate list we will use to handicap this game.
Arkansas State Red Wolves
- Starting LB Javante Mackey (739 snaps; committed to Memphis)
- DL Kadan Lewis (not on bowl depth chart; 235 snaps)
- DL Ashtin “Rusty” Rustemeyer (104 snaps; hasn’t played since Week 8)
- C Jacob Bayer (697 snaps) missed the finale after surgery, but it sounds like he’ll return for the bowl.
- RB Zak Wallace (324 snaps) also missed the regular-season finale.
Northern Illinois Huskies
- Starting C Pete Nygra (772 snaps; committed to Louisville)
- S Devin Lafayette (284 snaps; reduced playing time late in season)
- S CJ Brown (144 snaps; hasn’t played since Week 6)
- WR Trey Urwiler (24 snaps)
- Starting EDGE George Gumbs (430 snaps)
WR Trayvon Rudolph — the Huskies’ best wide receiver and returner — has withdrawn from the transfer portal.
Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois Best Bet
Arkansas State is currently a -3 (-110) favorite at DraftKings Illinois after opening at -1 (-110). The oddsmakers have a 53.5-point total set for this contest featuring two teams that may be better than their identical 6-6 records.
There’s also a stark contrast in style of play; the Red Wolves like to sling it, while the Huskies have a multi-faceted offense with running back Antario Brown as the focal point.
The portal hurt the Arkansas State defense much worse than their offense. Frosh signal-caller Jaylen Raynor threw for 2300 yards with 16 scoring strikes and nine interceptions. He has three Red Wolves receivers with 500+ receiving yards while running back Ja’Quez Cross has 163 rushing yards with four TDs over his past two games.
Raynor is up against the nation’s sixth-best passing defense. The Huskies allow a 57% completion rate with nine interceptions and five fumble recoveries. They will miss edge rusher George Gumbs, but outside of that, the NIU defense is intact and will make life miserable for the frosh.
NIU covers the +3 with an offense that can score points against a Red Wolves defense, allowing 31 points per game. They’ve allowed 31+ in two of their last five, but they have one of the worst rushing defenses among their FBS counterparts, and Brown will eat.
The Red Wolves are worse against the pass. NIU signal-caller Rocky Lombardi has been serviceable enough to pick apart the leaky Arkansas State defense, let Brown and the defense do the heavy lifting, and find a way to cover the +3.
My best bet: NIU +3 (-108) at DraftKings
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