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Published: Tuesday, 11/18/2003

Northern Illinois Novak wants more bowls for MAC

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

It is safe to say that Joe Novak is mad as heck and he s not going to take it any more. The coach at Northern Illinois is tired of seeing the majors gobble up the lion s share of the bowl bids while the rest of college football fights over the scraps.

Novak, whose team will finish 10-2 if it dispatches Eastern Michigan as expected on Saturday, saw the door to the bowl party closing after his team lost to Toledo in a critical Mid-American Conference game over the weekend.

“If we are 10-2, or if anybody in this league is 10-2, and we don t go to a bowl game, that s wrong,” Novak said. “That s where our bowl system is screwed up.”

Novak knows only too well that MAC teams with nine and 10 wins have historically spent Christmas at home while 7-5 teams from the Big Ten and the SEC sunned themselves in much warmer climes.

The Huskies (9-2 overall, 5-2 MAC) had grabbed the nation s attention while rising to 12th in the rankings, but they are in danger of not even getting a bowl bid.

“I m not sure our chances are completely over yet,” Novak said. “They probably are, but I don t know for sure.”

Novak cited past injustices inflicted on the MAC, such as in 1998, when Miami went 10-1 but got left home. Toledo has swallowed the same bitter pill. The Rockets were 10-1 in 2000, but stayed home for the holidays. Toledo went 9-3 in 1997, and was 9-2 in 1990, but missed out on the bowl parade.

“I ve said before that if we re a 10-2 football team, and a 6-6 football team from the Big Ten goes to a bowl game, that s wrong,” Novak said. “I ll say that again. And I m not just talking about Northern Illinois, either. I m talking about Bowling Green or Miami of Ohio, too.”

With 28 bowl games this year, Novak finds it hard to believe that there should not be spots for at least three MAC teams. The MAC has tie-ins with just two bowls - the Motor City Bowl and the GMAC - and right now No. 25 Bowling Green, No. 23 Miami, and Toledo appear to have the inside track on the Huskies.

The league s champion is the only team guaranteed a bid, and those three are still in the race.

GRADKOWSKI HONORED: Toledo sophomore quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is the MAC West offensive player of the week after he completed 88.9 percent (24-of-27) of his pass attempts for 301 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-30 win over No. 21 ranked Northern Illinois. Gradkowski completed his first 14 attempts of the game as the Rockets jumped to a 28-7 halftime lead. The last two weeks, Gradkowski has completed 90.4 percent (47-of-52) of his attempts.

ROETHLISBERGER, TOO: Findlay High product Ben Roethlisberger, a junior quarterback at Miami, led the RedHawks to a 45-6 win over Marshall in a contest that secured a spot for Miami in the MAC Championship game on Dec. 4. Roethlisberger completed 18-of-29 pass attempts while battling wind gusts of up to 50 mph. Roethlisberger piled up 282 passing yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also sparked the first scoring drive with a 14-yard run on a fourth-and-13 situation.



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