Last year this time, Northern Illinois was reeling from their 10-17 loss in the Independence Bowl to Louisiana Tech. A more accurate pass here, a caught pass there or a special teams tackle and that game would have had a different result.
After that game, Larry English walked up to Quarterback Chandler Harnish and told him that it was his team now to lead. The torch has been passed and Harnish has to be mistake-free as possible to win this bowl game. He has to be a game manager and not try and force anything through the air. He has to get the ball off quickly and not give in to whatever pressue USF brings.
The gameplan is simple: feed Chad Spann the football and we'll win the game on the ground.
Coach Kill infused this year's football team with his own talent and his own speed. Just look at some of these first year guys that have been making an impact: WRs Perez Ashford & Martel Moore, DEs Sean Progar, Alan Baxter & Darnell Bolding, DTs Brian Lawson & Nabal Jefferson, LBs Devon Butler, Tyrone Clark & Jordan Delegal and DBs Tommy Davis & Chris Smith.
All of those guys are in their first year of D-I football. They've taken their lumps of an up-and-down season. However they're all Sophomores and Upperclassmen by now. They've been playing with an intensity unmatched, but it's finally time to put together everything for one final showcase. Sans a couple role-players, everybody's healed up from the grind of the regular season and ready to go.
The International Bowl can be a springboard for the 2010 season. A strong performance here could mean a lot of preseason hype for the Huskies, who virtually don't have any dropoffs across the board at any position.
Winning this bowl game could mean a huge jump in recruiting leading up to February's signing day. Especially in Florida.
"I think it's important for us to have a good performance against South Florida because, when you're down there, you look at the Florida schools – you've got Florida and Florida State and South Florida – then you've got Northern Illinois trying to pull you away from those schools and they need a reason why," NIU recruiting coordinator P.J. Fleck said. "We've talked about it as a staff that this is a very important game for us recruiting not only in Florida but for our whole entire country."
"We want to have a good showing no matter who we play because we're recruiting kids all over the country now and we want kids to know about Huskie Nation," Fleck said. "We want to be a TCU, we want to be a Boise (St.) and for us to get there we have to win games like this."
There's a lot of parallel between both programs. USF didn't even have a football program until 1996, which was also the 1st year of Joe Novak's tenure as the savior of Huskie football. In their first year of D-I ball in 2001, they lost to Northern Illinois 17-20 in Dekalb. The next year the Huskies had a letdown after beating Wake Forest and lost to USF 6-37 in Tampa.
The MAC has lost 13 straight bowl games and it's time for Northern Illinois to wave the flag for the conference. Here is the chance that we've been waiting for a long, long time. It's been 6 years since our last bowl victory against Troy. That was also our only post-season victory in the last 10 years. Now we get to face a BCS team in a bowl game for the first time ever. It will also be a chance for Coach Kill to get his first win ever against an opponent with a winning record.
NIU doesn't have a distinct advantage in this game. It's not a game that they should win. That being said, it's a game they NEED to win. To get over the hump. To excite the fans. To pick up the ball dropped by MAC schools in postseason play. To get the ball rolling for THIS decade.
It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here?
What better time than now?