The buzz around Football Championship Subdivision teams is real. Northern Illinois found that out first-hand on Saturday.
While there was no additional FCS upset at Huskie Stadium with a 43-39 NIU win, the Huskies certainly had their hands full with an Eastern Illinois team that exposed them again defensively, and forced the Huskies into another late-game pressure situation.
Although NIU’s BCS bowl game hopes are certainly still intact, the expectations from fans that the Huskies will automatically run the table and return as a BCS buster should be tempered.
Second-half comebacks have been all too familiar for NIU, as it’s consistently toed the fine line of relying on late-game magic.
Last year, NIU made late rallies against Toledo, Army and Kansas. This year’s 17-point combined margin of victory over three games doesn’t exactly spell dominance, either.
If NIU has hopes of getting to another BCS bowl game, the defense can’t allow for continued slow starts, and rely on halftime adjustments – which, to their credit, have worked – and the NIU offense to score on almost every possession down the stretch.
NIU safety Jimmie Ward said it best, noting that the team had to “start the fight” even though one of the team’s mottos is to finish it.
Outside of Fresno State, NIU has the best chance at being a mid-major BCS qualifier. And the Huskies will get another chance to pad the non-conference résumé with a road trip to Purdue next weekend.
NIU will likely be favored in every game it plays for the remainder of the regular season, but it won’t be an easy march to Glendale, Ariz., for another BCS bowl game, let alone making it back to Detroit for a fourth straight Mid-American Conference title game.
The better teams in the MAC, like Ball St. and Toledo, won’t let NIU off the hook as easily as Idaho and Eastern Illinois did. Their defenses have played – and had some success against – Jordan Lynch before.
Many thought the Idaho result might serve as a wake-up call that NIU will get every team’s best punch. With their success over the past three seasons, the Huskies are where every MAC team wants to be.
Maybe it takes two close games against scrappy underdogs for things to really sink through, still managing to escape with an unblemished record.
But if not, Purdue might do what Idaho and Eastern Illinois couldn’t: The Boilermakers may be the ones who finish the fight.