NIU football season should be front and center
Most college football banter around here centers on how good Notre Dame is and how bad Illinois is.
Northwestern resides somewhere between them.
NIU is one of those directional schools that receives little attention even when the direction leads to Huskie Stadium.
For a long time I was a Big Ten snob looking down on Mid-American Conference programs. That included Northern Illinois first under head coach Joe Novak, then Jerry Kill and recently Dave Doeren.
As bad as Illinois was most years, the Illini still had to be better than the best MAC teams, right?
No. Wrong. Not now. Not anymore. Not for quite a while.
Things are so bad in Champaign that if the Illini lose to Minnesota on Saturday I'll probably start telling people I went to Northern. At least until the Big Ten basketball season starts, that is, when I'll consider renegotiating my loyalty as a free agent.
Teams at the top of the MAC football standings have been beating teams from bigger conferences this season. The Big Ten isn't nearly what it used to be or should be. These two realities meet somewhere in the middle.
Illinois wouldn't want to play the Huskies now and Northern Illinois-Northwestern would be one heck of a game.
NIU's football program has managed to grow and mature and evolve at its own pace as a national secret wrapped in local anonymity.
That's the good news and the bad news. Good because public pressure wasn't an issue and bad because the Huskies deserve more respect in the Chicago area.
I keep track of most teams in most sports for a living, and my knowledge of NIU football ranks down there with my knowledge of DeKalb politics.
That's partly my fault and partly Northern Illinois' for not publicizing the Huskies better.
Only recently did Jordan Lynch dent my consciousness, and I had to ask an NIU fan where the Huskies quarterback is from. Might as well be South Dakota, Canada or Pluto for all I knew.
Turns out that Lynch is from Chicago Mount Carmel. More sports fans should know this because he's an outstanding football player.
Maybe they will sooner than later because Northern Illinois started a marketing campaign to have Lynch's name at least mentioned in the context of the Heisman Trophy.
It wouldn't hurt if NIU's administration also let fans know who the Huskies are, what they want to be and how they plan to get there.
For now, though, Huskies football is sort of a hidden gem, including here in some of the suburbs not too far from DeKalb. NIU might be the Boise State of the Midwest without many knowing it.
The Huskies have the longest home winning streak in the nation. Who knew? They have the longest conference winning streak in the nation. Who knew? They have won 87 games since 2002. Who knew? They have won nine straight since a 1-point, season-opening loss to Iowa. Who knew? They are as successful as any team in the state. Who knew?
Not me and not enough of you judging by crowds in Huskie Stadium averaging, my NIU fan friend tells me, between 15,000 and 20,000.
Northern will play at home and on ESPN2 against Toledo on Wednesday in a game of MAC West and perhaps national consequence.
Maybe an NIU victory will insert the Huskies into the local banter of college football.
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