BOWLING GREEN — The stakes will be high for the Bowling Green State University football team when it plays in the Mid-American Conference championship game.
But the stakes are even higher for the Falcons’ opponent at Detroit’s Ford Field, as Northern Illinois carries aspirations of a BCS bowl bid and an undefeated season into Friday’s contest.
The MAC West Division champs enter with a 12-0 record that has helped the Huskies vault to No. 16 in the AP Top 25 and to No. 18 in the USA Today coaches poll. As things stand, NIU would earn a BCS bowl bid for the second straight season.
Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said he and his team are trying to focus strictly on facing 9-3 Bowling Green.
“We can’t control anything else — all we can control is the MAC championship,” Carey said. “As far as pressure goes, any time you’re in a championship game, there’s pressure.
“But I don’t think pressure is a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing because there are a lot of other teams that want to be in this position, that would beg for it.”
This week NIU’s players are not speaking to the media, and Carey said, “We can all figure that one out,” when asked about the move.
“I know [the media] aren’t happy about that. It’s not a decision that I took lightly,” Carey said. “We’re trying to focus on BG. If we can keep our focus on BG, I think that gives us the best opportunity to win.”
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson noted that the Huskies’ experience in the MAC championship game — NIU has been in the contest each of the past three years — is an advantage.
“If you are a senior on their team, you’ve been in this game every season,” he said. “It’s almost as if it’s a part of their regular season.”
But Clawson also said his team does not seem to be satisfied to earn a bid to the game for the first time since 2003.
“I think this was a team that believed we would win the MAC East, that believed we would be in the MAC championship game,” he said. “I do not have a sense that they are satisfied with that accomplishment.”
Senior linebacker Paul Swan confirmed that sentiment, adding, “It isn’t, ‘We made the MAC championship game, we’re happy now.’ We’re looking to go into this game to win the whole thing.
“That has been our goal ever since we got here. Now we finally have an opportunity, and guys don’t want to waste that opportunity.”
Senior tight end Alex Bayer said this year’s Falcons have a different feeling than does last year’s squad, which lost to Kent State in the next-to-last regular-season game to come up one win short of a bid to Detroit.
“I think last year, when we played Kent State, we were just enjoying the moment. We were just happy to be in that game,” Bayer said. “We didn’t care enough if we won or lost that game — we were just happy to be there.
“This year we have a different mindset. We expected to be here, and we expect to win.”
JOPLIN HONORED: BG wide receiver Shaun Joplin has been named MAC East division offensive player of the week. The senior caught six passes for a career-high 149 yards and a touchdown as the Falcons clinched a spot in the MAC championship game with a 24-7 win at Buffalo on Friday.
The Southview graduate exploded in the second half against the Bulls with five catches for 139 yards. Among those was a 23-yard scoring strike from quarterback Matt Johnson and a 62-yard catch that set up another TD.