NIU playing for much more than a MAC title
As if there wasn't enough at stake Friday night when Northern Illinois and Kent State meet for the Mid-American Conference title, now there could be a BCS Bowl invite as well for the winner.
What had to happen last weekend happened, and now the Huskies and Golden Flashes are poised to capitalize in their Detroit title test.
2012 MAC award winners
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch picked up two Mid America Conference awards Wednesday as his team prepares for the MAC championship Friday in Detroit:
Vern Smith Leadership Award Winner: QB Jordan Lynch, NIU
Coach of the Year: Darrell Hazell, Kent State
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Defensive Player of the Year: DT Chris Jones, Bowling Green
Special Teams Player of the Year: KR Dri Archer, Kent State
Freshman of the Year: WR Jaime Wilson, Western Michigan
Past Vern Smith Leadership Award winners
A NIU player has earned the Vern Smith Award six times in the last seven seasons. The honor as the league's top performer is voted on by MAC coaches:
2012: Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois QB
2011: Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois QB
2010: Chad Spann, Northern Illinois RB
2009: Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan QB
2008: Larry English, Northern Illinois DE
2007: Larry English, Northern Illinois DE
2006: Garrett Wolfe, Northern IllinoisRB
2005: Greg Jennings, Western Michigan WR
2004: Charlie Frye, Akron QB and Bruce Gradkowski, Toledo QB
2003: Ben Roethlisberger, Miami QB
2002: Byron Leftwich, Marshall QB
2001: Byron Leftwich, Marshall QB
2000: Robert Sanford, Western Michigan RB
1999: Chad Pennington, Marshall QB
1998: Travis Prentice, Miami RB
1997: Randy Moss, Marshall WR
1996: Brad Maynard, Ball State P
1995: Wasean Tait, Toledo RB
1994: Brian Pruitt, Central Michigan RB
1993: Mike Neu, Ball State QB
1992: Erik White, Bowling Green QB
1991: Erik White, Bowling Green QB
1990: Jeff Bender, Central Michigan QB
1989: David Riley, Ball State QB
1988: Tony Kimbrough, Western Michigan QB
1987: Eric Wilkerson, Kent State RB
1986: Terry Morris, Miami QB
1985: Brian McClure, Bowling Green QB
1984: Brian McClure, Bowling Green QB
1983: Tim Tyrrell, Northern Illinois QB
1982: Ray Bentley, Central Michigan LB
2012 All-MAC First Team Offense
Quarterback – Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Center – Zac Kerin, Toledo
Offensive Linemen – Brian Winters, Kent State
Offensive Lineman – Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
Offensive Lineman – Dann O'Neill, Western Michigan
Offensive Linemen – Austin Holtz, Ball State
Tight End – Zane Fakes, Ball State
Wide Receiver – Martel Moore, Northern Illinois
Wide Receiver – Bernard Reedy, Toledo
Wide Receiver – Willie Snead, Ball State
Wide Receiver – Jamill Smith, Ball State
Running Back – Dri Archer, Kent State
Running Back – David Fluellen, Toledo
Placekicker – Steven Schott, Ball State
2012 All-MAC First Team Defense
Outside Linebacker – Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Outside Linebacker –Gabe Martin, Bowling Green
Inside Linebacker – Dan Molls, Toledo
Inside Linebacker – Perry McIntyre, UMass
Down Lineman – Chris Jones, Bowling Green
Down Lineman – Roosevelt Nix, Kent State
Down Lineman – Sean Progar, Northern Illinois
Down Lineman – Alan Baxter, Northern Illinois
Defensive Back – Jimmy Ward, Northern Illinois
Defensive Back – Dayonne Nunley, Miami
Defensive Back – BooBoo Gates, Bowling Green
Defensive Back – Jermaine Robinson, Toledo
Punter – Jay Karutz, Eastern Michigan
2012 All-MAC First Team Specialists
Kickoff Return Specialist – Dri Archer, Kent State
Punt Return Specialist –Bernard Reedy, Toledo
Kent State is 17th in the BCS standings and NIU 21st, which puts the Golden Flashes in a better spot to move into the top 16. The top 16 teams get lucrative BCS Bowl invites.
"The dominoes had to fall, and they did," said NIU coach Dave Doeren. "I think it was more of, 'Hey, wouldn't that be cool if this happened.' Now it's a real conversation because nine teams lost that were ranked higher than us and so that really opened up some doors.
"None of them are worth their salt if we lose this weekend, so we've got to win. We put ourselves into a position to make it a real argument and now we need to finish what we started here. It was wild. I didn't get to see much of it because we were game planning the whole day, but I recorded all the games. My son told me and he was calling me with updates. It was kind of fun. It was a crazy day in college football."
What helped the Huskies most was Rutgers and Louisville losing, which means no Big East school is in the top 25 in the BCS standings.
What has to happen this weekend is No. 16 UCLA must lose to No. 8 Stanford and No. 18 Texas has to fall to No. 6 Kansas State.
Both UCLA and Texas are underdogs.
"It's not a BCS talk if you lose," Doeren said. "It's pretty simple. You lose this game, you don't talk about it next week. It's real easy to lock them into winning this one.
"The challenge to me was the week before and the week before Toledo. Those were the games that scared me more than these kinds of games. When you are playing your rival for a chance to go to the championship, then you are playing the championship for the chance to maybe play in the BCS. There is not a lot you need to say. These guys are going to be ready."
The NIU players certainly understand what's at stake.
"I think it is one of the biggest games in MAC history for the MAC championship," said quarterback Jordan Lynch, who was named the 2012 MAC Vern Smith Leadership Award winner on Wednesday, an honor the coaches give to the league's top performer.
"All that BCS talk, that's great and everything. It would be great to send our seniors out with a BCS Bowl. But if we don't take care of this game, none of that is possible," said Lynch, who is one of 10 finalists for the Manning Award given to the nation's best quarterback and also was named MAC Offensive Player of the Year on Wednesday.
Added wide receiver Martel Moore: "It's a great thing for the program. It's very big for our class and for the whole team, but we still have to take care of business this week. If we don't take care of business, it means nothing for our future."
The Huskies have won 11 regular season games in a row for the first time in school history, making it one of the greatest football seasons ever in DeKalb — one that could be remembered forever should they get to a BCS Bowl.
"You don't want to get your head wrapped around things like that," said linebacker Victor Jacques. "You want to stay focused on the prize. You want to go out there with the mentality that you have the right to be there. You don't want to be shocked the whole time you're there that, 'Oh my God, I'm here.' You just want to put that in the back of your head and go out there and play football."
Kent State coach Darrell Hazell refused to discuss the BCS possibilities.
"I won't talk about that at all," Hazell said. "I'll talk about Northern Illinois, that's the most important thing. If our guys don't focus on this game Friday, then we have no opportunity to play in some of those big games."
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