Detroit, MI (Sports Network) - The Mid-American Conference Championship will
feature two ranked competitors for the first since 2003 as the 19th-ranked
Northern Illinois Huskies and the 18th-ranked Kent State Golden Flashes head
to Ford Field to battle for the league title and possibly a trip to a BCS
Kent State is ranked 17th in the most recent BCS standings, while NIU occupies
the 21st slot in the poll. BCS rules guarantee a spot in a BCS bowl to
conference champions from non-automatic qualifying conferences if it finished
in the top 12 in the final BCS standings.
However, if a conference champion outranks a conference champion from a BCS
league, it only needs to rank in the top 16 to earn a BCS bowl bid. After a
flurry of upsets last week, this became the case this season as none of the
programs from the Big East are currently present in the polls. Depending on
results from around the country, the MAC could send a team to a BCS bowl for
the first time in conference history.
Northern Illinois has certainly made a case for itself. The defending league
champions came up short in their season opener and lost to Iowa by one point
at Soldier Field. Since then, it has been nothing but checks in the win
column. The Huskies have won 11 straight games since their bout with Iowa by
an average of 25.1 points per contest, making them the only team in the FBS
with 20 wins in their last 21 appearances. NIU also has the longest current
conference winning streak in the country with 16 consecutive wins over MAC
rivals. Coach Dave Doeren's career record is 22-4 as he nears the conclusion
of his second year. If NIU picks up one more victory, it will set a school
record for wins in a season. This will be the school's third straight
appearance in the MAC Championship.
Kent State has followed a similar path, as it comes in on a 10-game winning
streak. The Golden Flashes shattered a 90-year program record for victories on
their way to an 11-1 record. Coach Darrell Hazell took over the program
following a 5-7 finish in 2010. After he guided the team to the same record in
his first year, Kent State was not expected to be competing for the league
title this season. KSU had the biggest turnaround in the FBS in terms of wins
after going unbeaten in MAC play during the regular season for the first time
in school history. It also picked up a win over a ranked opponent for the
first time in school history with a 35-23 decision at Rutgers The team will be
playing in a bowl game for just the third time in school history and for the
first time since 1972.
This will be the 24th meeting between these schools. NIU has won nine of the
last 10 to claim a commanding 16-7 edge in the all-time series. The Huskies
coasted to a 40-10 victory when they squared off in DeKalb last season.
NIU has excelled on offense due to the stellar play of Jordan Lynch. The
junior signal caller is the most productive duel threat quarterback in the
FBS. In the regular season finale, Lynch set an NCAA record for most
consecutive 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback which led his season total
to 1,611 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, leaving him just 92 yards shy
of breaking the record for most rushing yards in a season by a QB.
Lynch is not just a scrambler. He has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for
2,750 passing yards with 23 touchdowns to only four interceptions. Marten
Moore can testify to Lynch's passing skills. The senior wideout finished the
regular season with 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns on 67 receptions, all-career
highs. Tommylee Lewis has also been effective in the passing game with 40
catches for 475 yards and five scores.
KSU will have to shut down a late bloomer in NIU's offense as well. Junior
tailback Akeem Daniels had a career day in the season finale with 112 yards
and four TDs on 12 carries. His own coach spoke highly of his performance.
"Akeem is a warrior. He wanted this.He wanted to be the guy all year and he
wanted it last year," said Doeren. " (Daniels) got an opportunity and he ran
with it last week. I thought he was really patient. I thought he ran through
contact. He didn't get in there and look for the big play. I mean, to me a
four-yard run is a good run. You know it doesn't have to be the 50-yard
touchdown. If you are patient like that, eventually that is what they become.
That is what he was last week. Really proud of him because he is a great pass
protector for us. He catches the ball well out of the backfield. He's
versatile in our empty package, and now he is a good downhill tailback."
NIU was one of the top teams in the conference on the defensive side of the
ball as well. The Huskies ranked second in the MAC in scoring defense and
third in total defense with allowed averages of 17.5 points and 364.8 yards of
total offense per contest.
Alan Baxter and Sean Progar both registered 8.5 sacks to spearhead a pass rush
that made 34 sacks to rank second in the league.
However, the Huskies may not have faced an offense with a player as talented
as Dri Archer. The Golden Flashes' junior tailback is the biggest home run
threat in the nation and the only other candidate for the MAC Player of the
Year besides Lynch. Archer is gaining 9.7 yards per carry, which is the
highest single-season average this century. The elusive and speedy rusher
finished the regular season with 1,337 yards and 14 touchdowns on 138 carries.
Archer has certainly drawn the attention of his upcoming opponent.
"He's quite shifty, but he's a very quick back. He's going to be the main
emphasis this week," said NIU's senior linebacker Victor Jacques. "We're
always going to know where he's at on the field to make sure he's kept in
check. He's a great football player, but I feel confident with our defense."
The Huskies will also have to stop Archer in the passing game as he leads the
team with 458 yards and four TDs on 30 receptions. He is also the nations
leading kick returner with 573 yards and three TDs on 15 returns.
If Archer was not enough to worry about, his teammate Trayion Durham
effectively complements him with a power running style. Durham racked up 1,176
yards and 14 TDs on 236 carries.
Spencer Keith will be under center for the Golden Flashes. The senior QB has
provided leadership as the team's signal caller, but he has been struggling
down the stretch. Keith was picked off four times in the final three games
after only throwing three interceptions in the first nine contests. He still
finished with 1.674 yards 11 touchdowns to seven interceptions on 151-of-264
The Golden Flashes are not quite as limiting as their opponent with allowed
averages of 409.9 yards and 23.5 points per outing. However, Kent State forced
35 turnovers to finish second in the nation in turnover ratio (+20). The
defensive unit was very good against the run, as it ranked 23rd in the FBS and
second in the MAC with 128 rushing yards allowed per game.
Senior LB Luke Batton anchored the defense with 119 total stops, two
interceptions, and one fumble return for a score. Junior DB Luke Wollet has
made an impact all year long as well to finish with 99 tackles, four
interceptions, and one fumble return for six points.
Despite all it has accomplished this season, Kent State is not satisfied with
just a trip to Detroit.
"When the clock hit zero, it was all about Northern Illinois," said senior
Kent State linebacker C.J. Malauulu.
The Sports Network