Bowling Green-N. Illinois Preview
Though Northern Illinois is in position to potentially bust the BCS for a second straight season, its current focus is on winning a third consecutive conference title.
The No. 16 Huskies look to keep those BCS hopes alive and continue their league dominance Friday night against Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference championship game at Ford Field in Detroit.
After becoming the first MAC school to earn a BCS bowl bid in 2012, Northern Illinois (12-0, 8-0) appears to be in good position to do it again with a victory Friday.
Joining Florida State and Ohio State as the only undefeated teams in the FBS, the Huskies are 14th in the BCS standings, and as a member of a non-automatic qualifying conference could earn a BCS bid by finishing in the top 12 of Sunday's final standings.
As was the case last year, NIU also can earn a bid by finishing in the top 16 and ahead of an AQ-conference champion. The Huskies currently are two spots ahead of Central Florida, which is in line to receive the American Athletic Conference's automatic bid.
Despite what's potentially down the road, the collective focus for NIU coach Rod Carey and his players is simple.
"The only thing we can control is the MAC championship," Carey said. "That's the game we qualified for. There's only one thing, one game we have guaranteed, and that's the MAC championship."
Though the Huskies are among the national leaders with 42.8 points per game and have a darkhorse Heisman Trophy contender in versatile quarterback Jordan Lynch, they understand the difficult task in front of them.
They're looking to extend their FBS-best win streak over league opponents to 26 games and join Marshall (1997-2000) as the only schools to win three straight MAC title games.
NIU needed a field goal as time expired to beat Ohio 23-20 in the 2011 title game and went to double-overtime for a 44-37 win over then-No. 18 Kent State last season.
"We're 12-0 now, and we want to be 13-0," Lynch said. "Our next goal is going 13-0."
Bowling Green (9-3, 7-1) has dropped three straight to the Huskies and hasn't played in the MAC title game since 2003, but boasts a defense ranked fifth in the FBS, giving up 13.8 points per game, and 28th with an average of 134.8 rushing yards allowed.
The Falcons have outscored their opponents 176-17 during a four-game win streak and held Buffalo to 15 rushing yards in a 24-7 victory last Friday that clinched the MAC East Division title.
"It's going to be a really good challenge for us, but we're looking forward to the challenge," Carey said.
Bowling Green, however, has not seen Lynch since he completed both of his passes for 46 yards with a touchdown and gained 32 on six carries in a relief stint during Northern Illinois' 45-14 home win Nov. 8, 2011 in the teams' most recent meeting.
Since becoming a starter last season, Lynch is second in the FBS with 3,570 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns on the ground. He's also thrown for 5,595 yards with 47 TDs, and none of his 11 interceptions during that span have come over the past five contests.
Lynch set the FBS single-game rushing record for a quarterback with 316 yards on 32 carries during a 38-17 win at Central Michigan on Oct. 19, then broke it last Tuesday with 321 and three TDs on 27 attempts in a 33-14 victory over Western Michigan.
"Jordan Lynch is the best player in college football and that's no disrespect to anyone else," said Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, a former NIU receiver and assistant coach. "The reason is he makes every single guy around him better. He is what Northern Illinois is about. ... And with all the pressure, he continues to perform."
While Lynch garners most of the attention, NIU's defense has allowed an average of 19.0 points in the last six games and 23 total in the second half of the previous four.
Bowling Green, which last won the MAC in 1992, scored 21 second-half points to overcome a 7-3 halftime deficit at Buffalo.
With 1,422 yards, Falcons sophomore Travis Greene is second in the MAC to Lynch (1,755) in rushing. Greene's averaged 129.0 yards and 6.4 per carry while scoring five touchdowns in the last four contests.
Teammate Matt Johnson has thrown nine TDs and four interceptions over the same stretch.
Bowling Green has dropped seven in a row against ranked opponents dating to a 27-17 loss at then-No. 25 Pittsburgh on Aug. 30, 2008.