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Ohio Bobcats vs. Northern Illinois Huskies Preview and Prediction

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The MAC West is still very much in doubt, with Northern Illinois and Toledo both sitting at one loss apiece.

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The Northern Illinois Huskies welcome Frank Solich’s Ohio Bobcats to town for a must-win game for NIU. A Huskie win would clinch the division title and a MAC Championship berth. A Northern Illinois loss would give Toledo — a team that spent most of the season in everyone’s Top 25 — control of its own destiny.

Ohio at Northern Illinois

Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPNU

Spread: Northern Illinois -13

Three Things to Watch

1. Northern Illinois quarterback Ryan Graham

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Graham didn't have time for nerves to kick in on the road against Toledo in early November. Starter Drew Hare went down and the freshman was thrown into the fire, leading a fourth-quarter rally over a ranked and previously unbeaten team. Graham is more experienced and prepared for the starting role, as he's had a few weeks to prepare, including wins over Buffalo and Western Michigan. That can be a good thing, but it's also a chance for anxiety and doubt to creep in, especially with so much on the line for Northern Illinois. Will Graham continue his performance from the last two starts? Or can Ohio find a way to rattle the young quarterback?

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2. How will Northern Illinois account for all of Ohio's weapons?

The Bobcats are loaded with playmakers on offense who can break games wide open. A.J. Ouellette is a complete running back, both as a pass catcher and running between the tackles. Sebastian Smith is a big-time playmaker and serious red zone threat at receiver, and J.D. Sprague or Derrius Vick adds a dangerous dual-threat element to the Bobcat offense at quarterback. I’m not convinced the Huskies can stop all of them, so their best bet will be to try and shut down one of them. It’s only a matter of deciding who to focus on.

3. Jordan Huff/Joel Bouagnon and the Northern Illinois offensive line

The NIU running game needs to be successful early to take any would-be added pressure of the young quarterback. Establishing control of the tempo early in the trenches will be key against an Ohio team with enough offensive weapons to keep pace with the Huskies. Long, run-oriented drives will be instrumental in keeping limiting Ohio’s offensive chances.

Final Analysis

Northern Illinois is a team on a mission. The win over Toledo gave them new life and forced them to focus on a championship. With a young, competent signal-caller and a defense that does just enough to the let offense win the game, I see the Huskies limiting Ohio’s big-play damage and coming away with a sound win to clinch the MAC West.

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Prediction: Northern Illinois 27, Ohio 21

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of KnowItAllFootball.com, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.