Here are some crucial Boise State football players to watch as the Broncos face Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl on Wednesday in San Diego:
Jeremy McNichols, tailback
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin and McNichols have the same opinion of where the sophomore star can take the next step in his game.
“Some of my runs, I just need to get more downhill and make a statement instead of running outside and running out of bounds,” McNichols said. “I’m going to work on that going into this bowl game.”
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McNichols has rushed for 1,244 yards and 18 touchdowns, and ranks third on the team with 46 catches for 364 yards and five scores. He was tied for the national lead with 23 total touchdowns after the regular season but now is three behind Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon.
He’ll enter the Poinsettia Bowl with a Mountain West-record 11 straight games with a rushing touchdown and a seven-game streak of 100-yard rushing performances.
“As far as his consistency, he did a very good job,” Harsin said. “He did some things numbers-wise and production-wise that you can look at statistically and go, ‘That’s very good,’ and I still think he has a long ways to go when it comes to how physical and what type of running team we want to be.
“He knows that. We all know that. That goes for everybody on our team about playing more physical and more dominant.”
Donte Deayon and Darian Thompson, defensive backs
Boise State fans get one last look at the dynamic duo. Deayon, a cornerback, and Thompson, a safety, have combined for 36 interceptions in their college careers.
Deayon has 17. He leads all active FBS players in interceptions per game at .44.
Thompson has 19. He is tied for the lead among active players in career interceptions and holds the Mountain West record.
They haven’t appeared in the same game since the Oct. 16 loss at Utah State. The Broncos haven’t allowed more than 381 yards with the duo on the field this season; they’ve allowed at least 400 yards in four of five games with one of them on the sideline.
Shane Williams-Rhodes and Chaz Anderson, wide receivers
The Broncos’ over-reliance on leading receiver Thomas Sperbeck has been exacerbated by the injury to Williams-Rhodes, who has missed most of the past three games, and the dropsies of Anderson, whose issues have coincided with Williams-Rhodes’ absence.
With Williams-Rhodes back in the lineup, the Broncos’ complementary receivers need to step up.
Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
▪ When: 2:30 p.m. Wednesday
▪ Where: Qualcomm Stadium (71,500, grass), San Diego
▪ TV: ESPN, Beth Mowins, David Diaz-Infante, Shelley Smith
▪ Radio: KBOI (670 AM) and KTIK (93.1 FM), Bob Behler, Pete Cavender
▪ Records: Boise State (8-4, 5-3 Mountain West); Northern Illinois (8-5, 6-2 Mid-American)
▪ Coaches: Boise State, Bryan Harsin (20-6, second year; 27-11, third year overall); Northern Illinois, Rod Carey (31-11, third year)
▪ Series: First meeting
▪ Vegas line: Boise State favored by 9 points; over/under is 56
▪ Kickoff weather: Low 60s and mostly cloudy, with 7 mph winds and a 10 percent chance of rain.