NIU must win big to think BCS big
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It wasn't pretty and, frankly, didn't have all that much personality.
With upsets all over the top 25 Saturday, Northern Illinois had a chance to make a significant move in the polls with a style-points victory over Akron.
Instead, the Huskies (6-0) had to hang on to beat Akron by a touchdown in DeKalb on homecoming, after playing four of the first five away from home, including two Big Ten road victories.
Maybe it was the letdown after a tough stretch, the distraction of homecoming or the knowledge that the Zips were awful, but NIU slept through Saturday's 27-20 victory.
This is the same Akron (1-6) that lost 43-3 the previous week on homecoming to Ohio (4-2), which turned around Saturday and lost on homecoming to Central Michigan (3-4), which has lost games this year by 50 points (Michigan), 21 points (Toledo) and 34 points (N.C. State).
And even if the voters didn't watch NIU-Akron, they looked at the score and the stats and penalized the Huskies for failing to run up the score in a game that on paper they should have won by 30.
Though NIU stayed at No. 23 in the AP Poll, the Huskies were passed by Missouri and Virginia Tech, while Fresno State on the bye week jumped from No. 22 to No. 17, with previously No. 18 and 19 Michigan and Northwestern dropping out of the top 25.
That's what happens when you're scoring 42 points a game and supposed to get fat off a weak conference team and you barely get fed at all.
"Speaking for myself and the offense, we have a bad taste in our mouth," quarterback Jordan Lynch said after Saturday's game. "We're anxious to get back out there."
The offense managed 399 yards a week after piling up 698. Cameron Stingily, after 266 yards rushing the week before, put up 80 and was dancing more than pounding it up the gut.
But if you must learn a lesson, better off a win than a loss, and head coach Rod Carey will certainly have the team's attention this week after a lethargic performance.
While the defense started slow again, as it has every week this season, it again made adjustments, allowed just 6 points after the first quarter and is the reason NIU was able to hold on and win.
"They have the ability to carry us, and tonight they did," Carey said. "I'm really proud of them."
The offense, inexplicably, has little reason to be proud. Lynch led the team with 83 yards on 15 carries (1 TD), but was only 16 of 35 throwing for 220 yards and a TD.
"I blame it on myself," Lynch said. "I was kind of out of rhythm."
Lynch hasn't looked quite the same since a shot he took in the Eastern Illinois victory, and you have to wonder if he's healthy.
"Credit goes to Akron's defense. They're fundamentally sound," Lynch said, taking the wise and politically-correct route. "There were still throws there. I just never got in that rhythm."
Complicating matters, NIU was an unthinkable 1-for-15 on third down.
"It's unacceptable," Carey said, "in every way, shape and form."
So why does a win on homecoming feel so unsatisfying? Because the standards for the NIU offense have changed, as have the expectations for the miraculous.
Lynch and friends gave the Huskie faithful the greatest gift of all last year, the impossible BCS bowl berth, and now it's difficult to watch a game without thinking of what might be possible.
And when they pass on an opportunity to move up in the polls, as they did Saturday, you also notice Fresno moving on a bye week, and therein, as they say, lies the rub.
If such a miracle is to occur again this season, Fresno could stand in the way. NIU has the computer edge, but Fresno (5-0) has gained in the polls, and doesn't face a test until its conference championship game, which might not be much of a test anyway.
NIU, on the other hand, will have three difficult games in a span of four weeks at the end of the season when it hosts Ball State, travels to Toledo and then presumably would have to win the MAC title game, which always proves to be a circus act.
It would help if Iowa (4-2) can throw in an upset or two this season, and if Ball State can keep winning and attracting attention, which the Cardinals were doing until escaping Saturday with a 27-24 win over Kent State.
There is a long way to go and a lot will change, but as of this moment NIU has a shot at busting the BCS again, with SB Nation projecting Sunday that NIU (13-0) would play New Year's Day in the Fiesta Bowl against Baylor (11-1).
The Huskies have proved it's not impossible, but they have much to prove if they want to dream BCS big again.
•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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