W. Michigan-N. Illinois Preview
Jordan Lynch has never lost a home game as a starter at Northern Illinois.
Based on Western Michigan's struggles under first-year coach and former NIU receiver P.J. Fleck, it would appear he's in good position to finish his stellar career unbeaten at Huskie Stadium.
Hoping to continue their Mid-American Conference dominance, the undefeated No. 18 Huskies try to extend the nation's longest home winning streak to 26 games Tuesday night against the lowly Broncos.
Garnering Heisman Trophy consideration for a second straight season, Lynch improved to 23-2 as a starter after throwing for 202 yards and running for 161 with three second-half touchdowns during Wednesday's 35-17 win at Toledo.
NIU (11-0, 7-0) clinched its fourth straight MAC West Division title by extending an FBS-best league winning streak to 24 games. One of five unbeaten FBS schools, the Huskies also kept alive their hopes of busting the BCS for a second straight year.
NIU moved up two spots and ahead of Fresno State in the BCS standings and up to No. 14 as the Huskies and Bulldogs jockey to be the last BCS buster.
Northern Illinois and Fresno State are fighting for one automatic bid. They have to finish in the top 12 of the last BCS standings, which comes out Dec. 8, or finish in the top 16 while ranking ahead of an AQ-conference champion.
Though NIU has the MAC championship game on Dec. 6 and a bowl game in the future, coach Rod Carey wants to make sure his players understand the significance of their next challenge.
With 45 victories, the Huskie seniors are the winningest class in school history.
"It'll be a big day all around from every aspect and every angle that you can think about," he said. "This is the only game we've got. It's right here, right now."
Lynch ranks seventh in the FBS with 1,434 rushing yards and has averaged 163.6 while scoring 13 TDs on the ground in the last five contests. His three TDs last week helped the Huskies rally from a 10-7 halftime deficit.
"He's pretty decisive,'' said Carey, whose team outscored Toledo and Ball State 56-10 after halftime in the last two weeks. "When he's running and making plays, that's just him."
Lynch threw for 274 yards with four TDs and ran for 136 with another two scores during last season's 48-34 win at Western Michigan (1-10, 1-6).
Junior Cameron Stingily ran for 146 yards at Toledo, and needs 42 to join Lynch as the first two players in NIU history to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
"It would mean a lot," Stingily said. "Now that I have the opportunity, I'm going to take full advantage of it."
The Huskies, whose last home loss came against Idaho in 2009 and last league defeat to Central Michigan in 2011, have outscored Western Michigan 165-80 during a four-game series winning streak.
The Broncos, however, should have even more incentive to end that slide this season.
Fleck posted team highs of 77 receptions, 1,028 yards and six TDs for NIU's 2003 team that went 10-2, and was the school's receivers coach from 2007-09. However, a day after he was named the Huskies offensive coordinator in February 2012, he resigned to become receivers coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fleck, who turns 33 on Friday, became the youngest head coach in the FBS when he took over at Western Michigan in December.
"It's going to be interesting because I've never been on the other side," Fleck said of returning to his alma mater. "I'm excited, but we're going in there with one thing on our mind and that's to win the football game."
That would appear to be a tall order for a Broncos team that ranks near the bottom of the MAC allowing 35.6 points per contest. NIU, meanwhile, is seventh in the FBS averaging 43.7 per game.
"It's a wonderful challenge for our young men," Fleck said. "I know a lot of those (NIU players) personally. I recruited a lot of them.
"It's not a secret (what the Huskies do). They just do it effectively. We're going to go out and try to stop them."
Western Michigan's Corey Davis ranks third in the MAC with 64 receptions and 913 receiving yards but was held to three for 40 in a 27-22 loss to Central Michigan on Nov. 16.
He had five catches for 112 yards and a TD in the Broncos' 38-17 loss at then-No. 17 Northwestern on Sept. 14.