The 2013 Northern Illinois University Huskies have almost mirrored their 2012 campaign through six games—with two stark differences.
First, the 2012 squad had lost one game. The 2013 team has not. Second, the 2012 squad typically looked dominant against inferior competition. The 2013 team has not.
While Huskies fans are thrilled with the unbeaten start, there has to be concern with NIU's penchant for playing down to lesser competition. If they truly are the 23rd-best team in the nation, as the current polls have them, there is no excuse to let weak sister programs such as Idaho, Eastern Illinois and Akron hang around late in games.
The Huskies have proven they can play with teams from a major conference, as road wins at Iowa and Purdue this season have demonstrated. They showed the country they belonged on the field against a clearly more athletic Florida State team in last season's Orange Bowl.
Yet they struggled mightily in two home games this season against teams they should have easily disposed of. It's puzzling and concerning for Huskies fans.
Coach Rod Carey needs to figure out a way to get this season's team to play with the same passion and drive it shows against better competition when they play teams they are expected to beat. Although at the end of the day, an undefeated record is the ultimate goal, style points do matter in terms of poll voting.
Furthermore, NIU has managed to avoid a late-game upset thus far, but allowing teams to hang around late is going to end up biting them in the behind sooner or later.
Northern Illinois has an unprecedented opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game two consecutive seasons. Like last season, a number of pieces would have to fall into place, but nothing will matter if the Huskies can't at the very least climb up to No. 16 in the polls. Last season, NIU managed to do that with one loss. This season, there is absolutely no possibility it will happen if the Huskies falter even once.
College football and everyone associated with it do not want another non-AQ team to slip into their promised land. Even more so, they would be heated if it is the Northern Illinois Huskies yet again.
What a perfect opportunity for NIU. There is no shame in losing to a good team, but if the bubble is going to burst, it should not be against a team that doesn't belong on the same field as the Huskies. It's time for Northern Illinois to step up and play like the dominant team they can be.