After Florida Atlantic routed Akron, 50-3, in last year’s installment that followed a C-USA title for the Owls, Alabama-Birmingham is heading to Boca Raton after the Blazers won the conference title, topping Middle Tennessee State, 27-25, in the Conference USA Championship Game on Saturday.
“[The Boca Raton Bowl] was one that we had circled for a while,” UAB coach Bill Clark said. “This is where we wanted to be.”
The Huskies (8-5) won the MAC on Friday by topping Buffalo, 30-29, in the conference’s title game. The Boca Raton Bowl is the one non-New Year’s Six bowl that involves two conference champions.
“Getting down to sunny Florida is never a bad thing in the middle of the winter when you live in Illinois,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “We’re still coming off a little bit of a high, winning the conference championship game. Good for our guys to get a little break and get back at it.”
Added NIU athletic director Sean Frazier: “We’re so excited. Our team is ready. Our coaches are ready. Our university is ready.”
UAB has had an inspirational run to its success after not playing football in 2015 and 2016 due to finances. In the Blazers’ first year back from the two-year hiatus in 2017, they went 8-5 and lost the Bahamas Bowl to Ohio.
“I think last year we got picked 130 out of 130 teams, so that was obviously a huge motivator for us, and we really had a goal last year to be competitive and found a way to win eight games,” Clark said.
“We had one goal, and that was to win a championship this year. … Like any great team, [we] have come together as a family. That’s what our team has done, so I’m just really proud of them.”
Last year, NIU lost the Quick Lane Bowl against Duke. The Huskies made another recent trip to South Florida, playing in the Orange Bowl following the 2012 season, where they lost to Florida State.
Northern Illinois has six players on its roster from South Florida: receiver Rod Alexander (Everglades), linebacker Lance Deveaux Jr. (St. Thomas Aquinas), linebacker Kewan Parker (Miami Carol City), receiver Dennis Robinson (South Broward), cornerback Albert Smalls (Miami Pace) and safety Trequan Smith (Boynton Beach).
For UAB, linebackers Adrienne Talan (Flanagan) and Kristopher Moll (Coral Gables) are from South Florida.