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Northern Illinois, Arkansas State figure to light up scoreboard

Tonight Bowl

Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State

The facts: 8, ESPN, 670-AM.

Updated: February 10, 2012 8:49AM

MOBILE, Ala. — Appetizers can be tasty, too.

While college football fans on the Gulf Coast are anxiously awaiting the main course — the BCS title game between LSU and Alabama on Monday in New Orleans — organizers of the Bowl said they expect a near-capacity crowd at 40,646-seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium, where Arkansas State (10-2) will face Northern Illinois (10-3).

It’s not surprising. College football is king in the heart of SEC Country, and fans should be treated to an entertaining game. Each team is led by a dual-threat quarterback. Chandler Harnish leads the Mid-American Conference champion Huskies, who average 38.3 points per game, and Ryan Aplin leads the Sunbelt Conference champ Red Wolves, who average 33.5.

Both teams also have rust to shake off.

“Our challenge is to take a 36-day break and try to play our best football against a great team for four quarters,” said first-year Huskies coach Dave Doeren, whose team enters its fourth consecutive bowl with an eight-game winning streak.

The Red Wolves, who are coming off a 35-day layoff, enter their second bowl since 2005 with a nine-game winning streak. They also have a coaching staff in flux. Hugh Freeze took the head-coaching job at Mississippi and brought four of his assistants. Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzaha was named to replace him but won’t coach until next season. Running backs coach David Gunn was named interim coach.

The Huskies won’t be without their challenges. Defensive tackle Ron Newcombe suffered an Achilles tendon injury in the conference title game and won’t play, and. defensive end Sean Progar is out because of DUI chargers.

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