Teams from the Mid-American Conference never get the respect they are due. Certainly they are smaller and less talented. But the brand of football played is exciting. That will continue Friday evening when Northern Illinois plays Ohio for the MAC championship at Detroit’s Ford Field.
Both teams are 9-3 entering the contest. Each have very effective offenses that are averaging 200+ yards rushing and passing. Ohio averages 212 rushing and 250 passing compared to NIU’s 255 and 233, respectively. This could be a game, like most MAC games of up and down the field excitement.
This is an opportunity for both teams to win a title after losing in their previous attempt. The Ohio Bobcats will be making their third attempt at the overall league title in seven seasons under current head coach Frank Solich. Northern Illinois lost last season in this game, and again in 2005.
Last year Northern Illinois marched into Ford Field knowing it would be their final game under then-head coach Jerry Kill. Kill was leaving for Minnesota. Miami of Ohio took advantage and upset the favored NIU 26-21.
NIU comes into Motown with a first year coach in Dave Doeren and on a mission, riding a seven-game win streak. Doeren is the winningest first year coach in school history. Meanwhile the Bobcats have won 5 in a row but they hold the advantage over the Huskies. This will be the first meeting between the two clubs since 2009. Ohio won that encounter 38-31, marking the third win in a row for Ohio over NIU. The series is tied a 9 wins apiece and this will be their first meeting on a neutral field.
Both teams are playing their best football heading into the game. It’s been a Cinderella season for the Bobcats. Five of their conference wins were decided in the final minute of play. Six of Ohio’s eight conference games were decided by a combined total of just 23 points. So Ohio has the experience of playing in close games.
Northern Illinois understands the meaning of protecting the ball. They don’t turn it over. The Huskies have committed only three turnovers in its last five games. Which means Ohio will have to earn their points and not expect any give-aways.
Overall this looks to be an evenly matched contest, but Ohio seems to have a better body of work. They won at New Mexico State and Marshall, yet lost by only 12 to Rutgers. Meanwhile NIU struggled early by losing to nationally ranked Wisconsin big and at Kansas by 3. Then they rolled off the winning steak, which included big wins over Toledo and Bowling Green.
Defense will be the key. It might be whomever can stop the other first will win. Take Ohio in a close game, 27-24.