NIU, EMU face off in important conference matchup
DeKALB -- For redshirt junior tight end Mitchell Brinkman, one word described what playing Eastern Michigan has been like the last three seasons:
The Huskies have played overtime games, all wins, in three straight seasons against the Eagles, including a 26-23 victory in three overtimes in Ypsilanti a season ago.
"It's definitely frustrating playing against them," Brinkman said. "They work extremely hard. They do a good job coming off the ball from a defensive end standpoint. There's no quit in them."
NIU (4-6, 3-3) is still eligible for a bowl game and to win the Mid-American Conference West division, and will be playing with that in mind for Tuesday's 6:30 p.m. kickoff.
After NIU's win over Toledo, which also has three MAC losses, the Huskies need some help in the form of several different tiebreaker scenarios, to get back to Ford Field.
Let's take a look at the most likely path to the MAC title game for NIU:
• Win out in home games against Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, AND
• Have Toledo defeat Central Michigan, AND
• Have Ball State lose one of its remaining two games, creating just a four-team tiebreaker between NIU, WMU, CMU and Toledo. NIU would then win by virtue of its win over Toledo, as CMU and WMU went 1-2 against the other tiebreaker teams and NIU and Toledo both went 2-1 against the tiebreaker teams. In this case, CMU, NIU, WMU and Toledo would have three MAC losses each.
A path exists for Western Michigan, Toledo, and Central to all win the MAC. A five-team scenario with each MAC West team except EMU favors Western Michigan, as does a three-team scenario with WMU, NIU and CMU and a four-team scenario with CMU, WMU, NIU and Ball State. Toledo could win in a three-team scenario with WMU and CMU. WMU has the tiebreaker in a two-team scenario with it and CMU.
"This team will never give up," running back Tre Harbison said. "We know we're still eligible to go to a bowl if we win out. Who knows? We could be contending for the MAC championship again. We're going to give ourselves the best opportunity to maximize what we can do every week."
EMU (5-5, 2-4) comes in with a high-powered aerial attack led by quarterback Mike Glass III, but also a shaky defense. The defense has surrendered 31.3 points per game, compared to 27.9 points per game for the Huskies.
"In my five seasons we've lost to them every time," Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said. "The last three have been in overtime. It's the one team that we haven't beaten in the MAC … we've got to do something we haven't done before."
Eastern Michigan is coming off a 42-14 win over Akron, a game in which the Eagles were able to throw the ball in the cold.
"You look at a team that's played a bunch of competitive football, games, beating a Big Ten opponent in Illinois, they are really throwing the ball well with the quarterback," NIU head coach Thomas Hammock said. "They got some wide receivers when they've got the ball in their hands, you've got to make sure you close the cushion, and get them on the ground because they can make explosive plays."
With potential year-end incentives available for his team to keep playing after the regular season, Hammock is still just focused on the Eagles.
"The message is; let's beat Eastern Michigan," Hammock said. "Let's not look ahead. Let's stay in the moment. Ignore the noise, go out and play a good football team and then if we do what we need to do, then we'll worry about the next thing after that."