If the Northern Illinois Huskies are going to win a MAC Championship, it had better be tomorrow vs. the Ohio Bobcats.
Let's not kid ourselves, winning a MAC Championship has been the goal for the team all year long. Earlier on there definitely thoughts by Huskie fans of something more than that, if the Huskies could somehow find there way past teams like Kansas or Wisconsin, both turning out to be losses.
Gone went any sort of BCS hopes. Guess what? Losing all of your starters on defense from a year ago is going to do that to a team. Especially the loss of S Tracy Wilson (upgraded to the Jets roster this week) and suspended linebacker Tyrone Clark and Devon Butler, a victim of a shooting in the offseason.
Let's not forget the new coordinators, who needed time to work the system in during one spring and one fall. It took a while for things to get going and for Doeren to know his personnel, but it seems like he finally has control of this team in every which way.
The turning point of the season was the loss @ Central Michigan. Early on it was a failure in all three phases of the game, spotting the Chippewas 17 points early on and while the offense made a valiant comeback, was unable to defeat the Chips.
People were giving up on the season. Fans expected this offense to just continue rolling from last year. The change in coaching has slowed that process down just a bit and guess what? You can't have a rotating door as a defense, even to win the Mid-American Conference!
After that, players started stepping up on defense. Guys like DT Ron Newcomb, S Dechane Durante and CB Jhony Faustin came out of nowhere and truly solidified the defense. No, this isn't the most dominating or athletic defenses around, but they've worked hard the second half of the season to help the Huskies win games like last week at Eastern Michigan.
It's no surprise that the most hard-working players on this team like Newcomb and LB Pat Schiller were recruited by Joe Novak in 2007. It was his final year as a coach and the players that redshirted during the 2-7 season are seniors now and are dominating.
This game is a mix of all the generations of NIU Football coming together and putting an unforgettable effort against Ohio, a team that has a longer drought of not winning the MAC, going all the way back to 1968.
However, since 1983, there has never been a team collected with as much talent as this NIU squad. They're just too strong when things are going correctly. The bugs have been shaken out against Eastern Michigan. Now it is time to dominate.
I started this blog in 2007 as well, so it will finally be nice to cover a team that I am surprised hasn't one one, despite being one of the most dominating mid-major teams over the past decade. Every year I dreamed of this happening, and while the team was fortunate to go to somewhat meaningless bowl games and win those, this will mean that much more.
A mix of generations. Fighting for all the players that have played for the team since 1983. For Joe Novak, who brought the team back from extinction in 1996 and built the school up to be a successful program. Jerry Kill didn't let the program drop off and kept competitive, mostly with players from a previous regime. And now Dave Doeren, who couldn't have come into a better situation.
After this season and the departure of Chandler Harnish, who knows what will happen to the Huskies. Next year it is unlikely they'll win it. After that, who knows. The future is bright in Dekalb, but this season is special. And now it's time for the Huskies to make it extra special by beating Ohio tomorrow in the MAC Championship.
The team has faced pressure situations like this one before. Recently in shootouts vs. Ball State and Toledo. Tough, grind-it-out games vs. Eastern Michigan & Buffalo.
The painful memories of recent times has been painful for the Huskies. Last year's MAC Championship with the defensive breakdown at the end. 2005's MAC Championship with the same type of ending. The almost-wins vs. BCS & bowl teams that never happened. Times the Huskies should have won the conference but didn't.
This Huskie team has a chance to finally make up for those horrible losses.
It all comes down to tomorrow.