For Northern Illinois, Friday’s regular season finale at Eastern Michigan has trap game written all over it.
Coming off an emotional win over rival Toledo that earned them a spot in the Mid-American Conference title game against Kent State in Detroit on Nov. 30, the 24th-ranked Huskies must guard against both a letdown and looking ahead.
“It’s a game that our guys really have to step up because any time you have a huge emotional win knowing you are going to play a game a week later in Detroit, it’s a game that you could fall into that trap,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said. “We are not going to do that. Our guys have already addressed it and talked about it.”
The 31-24 win over Toledo allowed Northern (10-1) to crack the top 25 for the first time this season and first time since 2010. The Huskies are 24th in The Associated Press writers’ poll and 23rd in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
“It’s a tremendous privilege to be ranked, but we still have to play our game,” said senior cornerback Rashaan Melvin. “It tells us we’re one of the best teams in the country. In order to continue to be ranked, we must keep winning.”
With three games still to play, the number Doeren has in mind is 13. No NIU team has ever won 13 games.
“We are really excited about the win that we just had over Toledo and what it has done for our program, not just as far as going to Detroit, but that win gets us to 10,” Doeren said. “Any time you get to the number 10 or higher, I think that is a mark of success that not many teams get to enjoy.
“I heard today, only two teams in college football have won 10-plus three years in a row — us and Oregon. So obviously, that is a magic number and if we can continue obviously getting to 11, 12 and even the magic number of winning them all the rest to get to 13 would be a magical season for us.”
But first comes 2-9 Eastern Michigan (noon Friday, ESPN3.com, WSCR 670-AM).
“To get either one of those (12 or 13 wins) we would have to win this week so to look ahead I think you lose out on something as far as leaving your legacy, and that is something we are not going to do,” Doeren said. “We are going to make sure that all of our guys, our coaches are focused on Eastern Michigan, and when that game ends Friday we will quickly shift our attention to the other game.”
No matter what happens, it’s already one of the most special seasons in NIU history.
“It is very special,” Doeren said. “I felt that way going into the season. I had a really good feel about our club. I think our leadership, not just our senior leadership, but our team leadership is very good. Our leadership council we have is mature, and they have taken ownership in what we do.”
Staying ranked is now the trick for the Huskies.
“It would be big for us to come in next year, if we keep doing what we’re doing, to be ranked,” said sophomore linebacker Jamaal Bass. “That would be a big goal for us so we can finally get some national attention. We’ve been working hard and to finally be ranked, that’s huge.”
Not all the news coming out of the Toledo game was good. Sophomore offensive tackle Tyler Loos broke his left tibia on the final drive and will miss the rest of the season.
“He will be back sooner than later, but obviously not within the season here,” Doeren said. “Tyler had a great season for us. He played left tackle and played almost every snap. He did a phenomenal job.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.