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Don’t assume they have been dominating the arms race in recruiting.
None of Northern Illinois’ five classes from 2009 to 2013 ranked atop the Mid-American Conference.
And don’t bother theorizing their toys are nicer than anyone else’s. It wasn’t until last month that the Huskies finally cut the ribbon on an indoor practice facility, a $9.5 million investment that puts the overachieving program on equal ground with virtually every other program in the country.
The secret behind NIU’s dominance in the MAC is no secret at all, says UT coach Matt Campbell, whose Rockets will try to end the Huskies’ several-year supremacy on Wednesday.
NIU has ruled the conference by pairing prolific quarterbacks with a revolving door of quality head coaches, a formula that’s produced 23 consecutive league wins heading into a West division showdown with Toledo at the Glass Bowl. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
“In this conference, I think we all know it’s very quarterback driven,” Campbell said. “If you have a talented quarterback that’s something that’s going to always give you a chance to be successful. Over the past seven years they’ve had a quarterback right at the top of our conference in play and in ability level. Then it’s the coaches’ job to make sure they put them in the best situation to be successful.”
Toledo, a three-point underdog for the nationally televised contest, hopes to avoid relinquishing its title hopes to the Huskies for the fourth year in a row.
No. 20 NIU leads the nation with 14 consecutive road wins, a streak that includes a 63-60 triumph at Toledo in November, 2011.
The latest winning combination out of DeKalb, Ill., matches Heisman Trophy dark-horse candidate Jordan Lynch with first-year coach Rod Carey.
Carey, who has the unbeaten Huskies in contention for a second straight BCS bowl berth, enjoyed a fairy tale ride last year, beginning the season as NIU’s offensive line coach before promotions to offensive coordinator and head coach. He led the Huskies in their 31-10 Orange Bowl defeat to Florida State.
NIU is already on its third coach since Joe Novak called it quits after the 2007 season. The Huskies have replaced one strong leader with another, with Jerry Kill and Dave Doeren each claiming division or overall MAC titles before bolting for BCS jobs. Carey is the only in-house replacement among Novak’s successors.
“All three of us, Jerry, Dave, and myself are standing on the foundation that Joe Novak built,” Carey said Friday, two days after his team erased a halftime deficit in a 48-27 home win over Ball State. “He did that just rolling up his sleeves, locking his jaw, and getting it done. We’re the beneficiary of that. There’s a plan in place. It’s not a real detailed one because you have to put your own imprint on it. We all three have done that and we all three haven’t been dumb enough to try to change it.”
Carey said anyone whose Heisman short list doesn’t include his quarterback “must have fallen asleep” last week watching the Ball State game. Lynch, last year’s MAC offensive player of the year, scrambled, broke tackles, and fired off deeps balls to spark a ferocious 21-point fourth quarter. The Chicago native improved to 22-2 as NIU’s starter, a mark that includes zero MAC or home losses.
The heir to the All-MAC QB Chandler Harnish (2008-10), Lynch is accounting for 348.9 yards per game in his senior season. He totaled 569 yards and three TDs in last year’s 31-24 win over Toledo.
“He’s kind of built like Tim Tebow,” Rockets defensive lineman Jayrone Elliott said, referring to the former all-purpose Florida quarterback. “We don’t know how he did it so many years. [Lynch] is doing the same thing down in Northern.”
To the pleasure of 12 MAC schools, the Lynch era is soon coming to an end. But just as NIU so seamlessly replaced Harnish with Lynch, there are talented options to smooth the transition to the future.
Western Michigan transfer Anthony Maddie and three-star Wichita, Kan., product Landon Root are on the clock next year and will compete with current backups Matt McIntosh and Drew Hare.
“They haven’t gotten a whole lot of chances to play, so I don’t know yet,” Carey said. “I think we have good quarterbacks on our roster. I think we have good ones that will be joining us too.”
NOTES: Toledo mayor Mike Bell made an official proclamation Monday that Wednesday will be “Rocket Football Day” in the city. Bell is a UT graduate and played on the football team from 1973-76. ... UT’s Nov. 29 season-finale at Akron will kick off at noon. ... Rockets kicker Jeremiah Detmer was named MAC West special teams player of the week.