It might be the biggest game in Northern Illinois football history.
Not only will the Mid-American Conference championship be on the line Friday at Ford Field in Detroit when NIU and Kent State square off, but possibly a spot in a BCS Bowl.
Kent State is ranked 17th in the BCS standings and NIU 21st with the top 16 teams getting a shot to play in a BCS Bowl.
“To have a championship game with two 11-1 teams, that rank first through third basically in every category statistically in the conference, I think says a lot,” said Huskies coach Dave Doeren. “Sometimes you don’t get to see the best two teams play each other in the conference championship. You know it just doesn’t work out that way, and for the MAC to have that on a national stage, I think, is outstanding for our conference and the players.
“There’s always a lot riding on a championship game, but maybe more in this one than normal for our conference, and that makes it even more fun as a coach preparing for this one.”
Golden Flashes coach Darrell Hazell refuses to let himself or his players get ahead of the task at hand Friday (6 p.m. ESPN2).
“I’ll talk about Northern Illinois, that’s the most important thing,” Hazell said. “This is a huge, huge game for this university. There’s going to be two good football teams on the field and it’s going to be one of those games that comes down to the last few minutes.”
Kent State possesses two 1,000-yard rushers in Dri Archer (1,373) and Trayion Durham (1,199).
Northern will be seeking its second straight MAC title behind Doeren. It has won 16 consecutive conference games and is appearing in a third straight MAC championship, splitting the last two.
Jordan Lynch, the MAC player of the year who is being touted by the school as a Heisman Trophy candidate, set the FBS record for rushing by a quarterback by running for at least 100 yards in 10 consecutive games.
He’s one of the country’s top dual-threats, throwing 23 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions while running for another 16 scores. He has a 400-yard passing game to go along with a 200-yard rushing game to his credit.
The Huskies averaged a conference-best 245.0 yards on the ground, with the Flashes close behind at 241.5.
“We’re excited,” Lynch said. “We love the spotlight and the game is going to give us a chance to show what we can do.”
Despite possessing a high-powered offense, Doeren hasn’t lost sight of his defense, which ranked third in the MAC, giving up an average of 364.8 yards.
“I read a story saying teams that run spread offenses don’t have very good defenses,” said Doeren, whose team held Eastern Michigan to 227 total yards in Saturday’s 49-7 victory. “I wish they would’ve called me for that story. We’ve been a very good defensive team this year.”
Kent State is certainly the best team NIU has faced.
“I think 11-1, you have to say they are,” Doeren said. “I thought Toledo was really good. I thought Ball State was really good, but when you look at their body of work and the number of times they have won, you have to say they are.
“They have the best player we have played against all year, I will tell you that. Dri Archer is electric and versatile and they give him the ball. He touched it 19 times on offense out of 58 plays, I think, in the Bowling Green game, which is a lot for a guy that isn’t the quarterback. We got to make sure we know where he is and we got to be able to tackle him and leverage him.”
Perhaps Lynch can get his name seriously into the Heisman discussion with another big game.
“I would like to see that,” Doeren said. “He has done everything that he was supposed to do. He did it in a big game on national television against Toledo. This is another opportunity for him.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.