Last year’s setback against Florida State in the Orange Bowl was the best thing that could have happened to the Northern Illinois football program.
In fact, that 31-10 loss back in January has fueled a Huskies squad that has a realistic shot at winning their first BCS bowl in school history.
Through 12 games, the team has tossed aside every opponent and hurdled every obstacle in its path.
Only two teams have managed to come within six points of Northern Illinois all season. Both occurred within the first three games.
Since then, the Huskies have rolled, winning their last nine contests by an average margin of 23.8 points.
Now, the team just has to maneuver past Bowling Green in the MAC title game on Saturday to record the school’s first-ever perfect regular season. But most importantly, Northern Illinois is just one win away from securing a berth into a BCS bowl and a chance at redemption.
The biggest difference for this year’s squad is that quarterback Jordan Lynch hasn’t had to do it alone.
In 2012, the senior carried the Huskies. He threw for 3,138 yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions on 60.2 percent passing while adding another 1,815 yards and 19 scores on 294 carries.
But other than Lynch, the team was short on options. No other player rushed for more than 500 yards and only Martel Moore (75 REC, 1,083 YDs, 13 TDs) managed to top 600 receiving yards.
So it came as no surprise when the Seminoles were able to easily shut down Northern Illinois with ease.
However, this season it’s been a different story.
In the backfield, running back Cameron Stingily has offered a helping hand. The junior has racked up 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns on 180 carries in 11 games.
The same can be said about the receiving corps, as Da’Ron Brown (42 REC, 689 YDs, 9 TDs) and Tommylee Lewis (74 REC, 623 YDs, 3 TDs) have been able to keep secondaries guessing. Sophomore Juwan Brescacin (24 REC, 398 YDs, 4 TDs) has also emerged as a threat in recent weeks.
It’s all added to provide the Huskies with a much-improved offense this year as compared to 2012:
|Northern Illinois: Then and Now|
|2012 (Rank)||2013 (Rank)|
|PPG||38.6 (13)||42.8 (9)|
|Total YPG||469.6 (20)||542.3 (4)|
|Passing YPG||231.4 (64)||223.4 (74)|
|Rushing YPG||238.2 (12)||318.9 (4)|
With a worthy supporting cast alongside him, Lynch is better fit to lead the team to postseason success.
But that’s not all that is working in Northern Illinois’ favor. The team also benefits from having the experience of playing in a BCS bowl the year before.
Instead of erasing that Florida State loss from memory, the Huskies should do exactly the opposite.
That game film should be put on repeat. Re-watch all the poor execution, the missed blocking assignments and all the incomplete passes.
Watch it again and again until the anger is too much to keep inside.
Last year, Northern Illinois’ players appeared to be happy just to be there. They seemed content with simply being the first MAC team to play in a BCS bowl.
This time around, it’s about unfinished business. About proving all the critics and naysayers wrong.
But more importantly, this time, it’s about respect.
Due to having the last pick in 2013, the Fiesta Bowl is the likely BCS destination for Northern Illinois if it qualifies.
If that’s the case, the team would go head-to-head against the Big 12 champion. That looks to be Oklahoma State as of now, but Baylor and Texas are still in the running.
Although all three teams would present major challenges for the Huskies, none of those three are anything like the Seminoles. A team that entered last season’s Orange Bowl ranked in the top 10 both offensively and defensively while being an upset-loss to NC State away from playing for the BCS title.
With a larger supporting cast, big-game experience and a favorable matchup, it’s hard to bet against Northern Illinois in a BCS bowl game. Not to mention, Lynch has been playing phenomenally in recent weeks.
The clock struck 12 before the team could complete its Cinderella story a year ago.
Now, it’s time to prove the slipper still fits.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.