When the 2009 season began, the Northern Illinois Huskies were projected to finish third in the Mid-American West behind Western and Central Michigan.
Now 10 games into the season, the Huskies (7-3, 5-1 MAC) will be no worse than the No. 2 team in the MAC West. With a win Saturday over Ohio in Athens, NIU will head into its game at Central Michigan with a trip to Detroit hanging in the balance.
The Huskies did what they needed to do these past four games with wins over Miami (OH), Akron, Eastern Michigan and Ball State. Those teams entered the Huskies' four-game stretch with a 1-25 record and enter this next week 4-37. Any losses would have been devastating for a MAC team fighting for a bowl.
But masked in the impressive season NIU is putting up is the disappointing one Western Michigan has. The Broncos have struggled on defense and on the offensive line. Star quarterback Tim Hiller hasn't had nearly the time to throw that was evident against NIU. Their record (5-6, 4-3) lingers as shocking.
NIU has waded through an injury to quarterback Chandler Harnish. How? With the run game that starred in the three games Harnish did not play, but struggled some against Ball State.
Redshirt junior Chad Spann has been, without doubt, the Huskies' Most Valuable Player. He has 16 rushing touchdowns, tied for fourth in the nation, and has 17 total scores. He also has 830 yards and will look to become the first Huskie under Jerry Kill to rush for 1,000 yards.
The Huskies will have their hands full with Ohio (7-3, 5-1) before heading to Central Michigan (8-2, 6-0) and All-World quarterback Dan LeFevour. The win over Ball State has all but clinched a bowl game for the second straight season. A win over Ohio makes NIU the No. 3 team in the entire MAC.
A win over Ohio sets up a MAC West title battle with CMU for a chance at NIU's first conference title since 1983. That season, Bill Mallory led the Huskies to the California Bowl. NIU's last appearance in Detroit was in 2005 when they were upset by Akron on a last-second Hail Mary to Domenik Hixon.
History is in the hands of the Huskies. They control their own fate. It would not be a good time to have a lapse and put the MAC title out of reach before getting a shot at LeFevour.