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San Diego State Aztecs vs. Northern Illinois Huskies Preview and Prediction

Donnel Pumphery

Donnel Pumphery

This game is a pairing of two teams going in opposite directions as the 2016 season begins. San Diego State comes into Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Illinois, with an impressive 2-0 start that includes a wild shootout 45-40 win over California. Northern Illinois is off to an uncharacteristic 0-2 beginning, coming off of a 48-17 loss at South Florida that included an ankle injury to starting quarterback Drew Hare.

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San Diego State also boasts an unlikely dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Donnel Pumphrey. Pumphrey has surpassed legendary Aztec running back Marshall Faulk to become the program's all-time leading rusher, and was instrumental in the win over California with 281 yards and three touchdowns.

San Diego State at Northern Illinois

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBSSN

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Spread: San Diego State -11

Three Things to Watch

1. San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey vs. Northern Illinois' Run Defense
Pumphrey is off to a tremendous start for 2016. Northern Illinois has given up 268 yards on the ground so far this season. Even with their struggles in the secondary, look for the Huskies to sell out against the run versus San Diego State.

2. How Will Ryan Graham Perform as Northern Illinois’ Quarterback?
Ryan Graham is in a familiar situation, once again coming in for injured starter Drew Hare. Graham has playing experience, helping to rally the Huskies to victories in 2015 over Toledo, Buffalo and Western Michigan. San Diego State's defense has only given up 40 points this season and will look to rattle Graham.

3. Can Northern Illinois Rally After an 0-2 Start?
Northern Illinois has been a stalwart of the Mid-American Conference, having won the MAC West Division in each of the previous six seasons. But a new challenge awaits the Huskies, which enter this game at 0-2 with conference play set to commence in October. With two more non-conference games remaining, can Northern Illinois start turning things around against the Aztecs, the defending Mountain West champs and a team that already has beaten a Power Five opponent?

Final Analysis

San Diego State is flying high after its win over a Power Five team, while Northern Illinois is dealing with losing its starting quarterback to injury and two tough losses to begin the 2016 season. Even with a cross-country flight, look for the Aztecs to continue their positive start while the Huskies look for some positive results to build on with MAC play starting up in two weeks.

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Prediction: San Diego State 38, Northern Illinois 21

— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.