Huskies clinch third consecutive MAC West title
For all the marbles, again
When Dave Doeren was named Northern Illinois head coach back in December of 2010, he found out pretty quickly what the Huskies' rivalry with Toledo meant to the NIU fan base.
In fact, he found out as soon as he was introduced as NIU's head coach.
"I was told the first day on campus," Doeren said. "When you have your press conference, tons of people walk up to you and congratulate you. And many of them say 'Hey beat Toledo.' So kind of right away I knew it was a big game here."
Since NIU's program was revived under Joe Novak in the early 2000s, the annual game against Toledo has had significant meaning to the Huskies and their fans. The past two seasons, the matchup has decided the Mid-American Conference West Division title.
This season, it's more of the same. A win for NIU means the Huskies clinch their third consecutive division title. A victory for the Rockets means they would win the West Division with a victory against lowly Akron Nov. 20.
Doeren got a win in his inaugural game with the Rockets last season, the 63-60 thriller at the Glass Bowl. Jerry Kill beat Toledo in two of his three seasons as Huskies head coach, with the only loss coming in 2009, when NIU kicker Mike Salerno had an extra point and a 42-yard field goal blocked by Toledo's Barry Church, who's now with the Dallas Cowboys.
Novak wasn't as successful against Toledo. During his 12 seasons at the helm of the Huskies program, Novak was able to beat Toledo just once, a 35-17 win back in 2005. In Novak's last year in DeKalb, 2007, the Rockets beat his team, 70-21, at the Glass Bowl.
The game with Toledo meant a lot to Novak. He wasn't at Huskie Stadium in 2008 when Kill beat the Rockets, 38-7, in the current Minnesota head coach's first season in DeKalb. But following the contest, Kill actually saved the game ball and sent it to his predecessor.
It's still sitting in Novak's room.
"Jerry knew how frustrated I got with that series. I let him know how important it was when I left, and he told me when they win they're going to give me the game ball. And they won and they gave it to me. It's one of the things I treasure, I really do," Novak said. "It's obviously a big game, it has been. And the way things are going I think both programs are the two strongest, year in and year out in the West, and it's going to be that way for a while."
When Novak helped lead the Huskies back into the MAC in the late 1990s, NIU was a bottom feeder while Toledo was winning under Gary Pinkel, and then Tom Amstutz.
However, the Huskies have now won two matchups in a row, with Kill and Doeren beating Tim Beckman, who's now the head coach at Illinois.
Once again, it's the game of the year in the MAC West.
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Huskie Stadium, DeKalb
TV/Radio: ESPN2/670 AM
Line: Northern Illinois by 10 1/2