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Article updated: 11/12/2013 9:17 AM

BCS? NIU's focus entirely on Ball State

By Barry Rozner

Go ahead and try to figure it out.

At your own risk, try to understand movement in the BCS standings, and when you're fully confused, frustrate yourself with a glance at the coaches poll.

Vertigo ensues.

Northern Illinois jumped up to No. 15 in the BCS on Sunday -- after having the weekend off -- moving three places forward from last week, when they fell one spot following a 63-19 victory over UMass.

Yeah, right?

NIU also hurdled Michigan State, which was one place ahead of NIU last week -- and MSU also had the week off.

You with me so far?

Meanwhile in the coaches poll, NIU dropped a spot to No. 21, and Fresno State -- 14th in the BCS -- moved all the way up to 14th in voting by the coaches, who clearly don't watch any games or highlights beyond their own.

The good news is this is the last year you'll have to look at the coaches poll.

The bad news is NIU can only play the teams that will schedule them, criticism they've learned to live with despite the consequences.

"It's Division I football," NIU QB Jordan Lynch told us on WSCR 670-AM on Saturday night. "There's good players everywhere. We had the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft (Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher) from the MAC last year. If you can play football, you can play football."

Yet, there is a perception out there that NIU can't handle another BCS bowl. Some BCS experts have suggested there's NIU fatigue among the voters because of the Orange Bowl loss to Florida State, which produced the 16th pick in the draft (QB E.J. Manuel) and is in line this season for the BCS title game.

Granted, NIU had a tough time with FSU's size and speed, which was hardly unexpected. What's forgotten is NIU was in the game down a score in the middle of the third, with the ball and driving for the tie before a turnover led to 14 unanswered for FSU and a 31-10 final.

"I feel like we shouldn't get punished for doing our job, going out there and being 9-0," Lynch said. "Why should we get punished for that? Why should we get punished in the rankings and say we can't be back in another BCS bowl?

"I feel like it's unfair to us, but that's why we still have that chip on our shoulder."

That will come in handy this week as 9-1 Ball State invades DeKalb on Wednesday for what should be the game of the year in the MAC (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Cardinals are 32nd in the AP Poll and take on the No. 15 Huskies after winning seven straight and averaging 40 points during that streak.

"They have a taste for winning right now," NIU coach Rod Carey said. "I think confidence, like I've said with 18- to 22-year-olds, is an amazing thing. You get that confidence and all of a sudden they're playing like it.

"It's going to be a big challenge for us. It's the best team I've seen on film right now going into a game based on how they execute their game plan overall. It's going to be a big challenge, going to be a good night, and I expect a big crowd out there."

Huskie Stadium should be packed for this one, and the Huskies will need that advantage. Ball State is on fire right now and for all the talk of BCS snubs and staggering poll results, if NIU doesn't take care of business this week, next week against Toledo and in the MAC title game, it will all be moot anyway.

"It's a big game coming up because it's the next one," Lynch said. "The time we start looking at the BCS polls or anything like that is the time we slip up and lose a game, so we just try to stay focused on the next game."

And it's a tough one. Ball State is ranked 11th offensively in the country and 102nd defensively, while NIU is No. 8 on offense and 40th on defense. It has all the makings of a 90-point MACtion contest.

"They're well coached, fundamentally sound, and they always seem to be in the right place at the right time," Lynch said. "Both teams will face adversity in this game and who responds best is gonna come out victorious.

"Ball State prides themselves on turnovers. They're top 10 in the country in turnovers (No. 8). They're gonna take their shots. They're good up front. But we're also top 10 in the nation running the football (No. 4). We take pride in hard-nosed, downhill football. It should be a great challenge."

So while it's tempting to focus on non-AQ rival Fresno and wonder about AAC leader UCF (No. 17 BCS), NIU can't afford any such thoughts at the moment.

The Huskies have three tough games remaining, and a defeat in any of them ends discussion of another BCS bowl.

For Northern Illinois, the postseason begins Wednesday night.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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