Northern Illinois is going to sunny San Diego.
The Huskies, No. 23 in the final BCS standings, will play Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl at 8:30 p.m.CST on Dec. 26 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Qualcomm is the home of the San Diego Chargers and the game will be televised on ESPN.
With a win in Friday’s Mid-American Conference Championship, the Huskies would have earned a BCS bid, but those chances ended after a stunning 47-27 upset loss to Bowling Green in Detroit.
NIU got to the Poinsettia Bowl because the MAC had a secondary agreement with the bowl game this year. The matchup was originally scheduled to be a Mountain West team vs. Army, but the Black Knights only have three wins heading into next week’s game against Navy and won't be bowl-eligible. NIU is taking Army’s place.
"At the end of the day in game down to the matchup. It came down to timing, and it came down to invitations, too," NIU athletic director Sean Frazier said. "It just happens that the Poinsettia Bowl, having the Mountain West runner-up, obviously us being a runner-up in our own right, in looking at that matchup we all felt that was the right place for us and the right timing."
Utah State finished the season 8-5 and won the MWC Mountain Division. The Aggies suffered a 24-17 loss to Fresno State in Saturday’s MWC Championship Game in Fresno, Calif.
NIU has finals this week, and Huskies head coach Rod Carey said the team won't practice until later in the week, when finals are over. NIU will also be able to use the Chessick Practice Center this season. For past bowl practices, NIU has had to use the DeKalb Recreation Center when the weather has been bad.
This will be NIU's second appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl. The Huskies lost to TCU, 37-7, in 2006. The game has been in existence since 2005.
Other MAC teams heading to bowl games are champion Bowling Green (Little Caesar’s Pizza), Ball State (GoDaddy.com), Buffalo (Famous Idaho Potato) and Ohio (Beef O’Brady’s).
Carey said the game will give the senior class a chance to go out the right way.
"Last year after the Orange Bowl loss, we had to sit on that loss for sixth months and that was a really bad taste in your mouth for that amount of time," Carey said. "This year, we don't have to wait that long to get back out there and get that bad taste out of our mouth."