Life at a so-called mid-major is tough. You’re often overlooked, under-appreciated, and get ditched by your head coach before a bowl game.
NIU has experienced all of the above the last few years, losing two coaches in a row before its bowl game appearances, and has undergone personnel changes following those departures.
Through all the rigmarole of Jerry Kill and Dave Doeren, what’s been spit out of the odd mixtures of recruiting classes and coaching changes is a squad that competed, won, and played its way to become the first MAC team to ever reach a BCS bowl.
The MAC is not a weak conference. It is not in the national consciousness very often, and it is not on primetime channels during college game-days. What the MAC has been, and is, however, is a hot-bed of coaching talent, a place where hardworking football players can prove their skills, and where teams stick together.
Once the announcement of NIU’s Orange Bowl berth came forth, the commissioner of the MAC, Jon Steinbrecher, made sure NIU would not experience financial loss for its accomplishment. The MAC schools all will contribute enough money to cover the bases of any hits, which there will be, that NIU will take.
NIU Athletic Director Jeff Compher believes the financial aspect has allowed the university and the players to fully take in the experience.
“I think it’s really good that they stepped up and took that risk factor away from us and allowed us to approach this whole experience differently than we would if we were hanging out there with the full financial responsibility on our shoulders,” Compher said.
While the MAC showed its appreciation for NIU’s achievement in this way, one hand washes the other, as NIU’s orange bowl berth bumped all MAC teams up, allowing certain teams to get into a bowl game that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Compher believes the MAC's accomplishments are not limited to just NIU, and not just this year either, stating that the MAC won the ESPN Bowl for having the most wins in post-season play out of all conferences last season.
Despite the accomplishments achieved already, the pressure is still on NIU and its players, whether it mentally affects them or not.
The pressure is on nationally, through opinionated sources and media outlets. If NIU wins, it disrupts the balance and prestige of the state of BCS. Perhaps some look at it as parity, or others denounce college football in general.
If they lose, it’s the same story: There’s a reason smaller conferences should not be allowed onto these national stages.
I, for one, don’t understand the vehement backlash and appalled reactions to a school getting its first BCS berth.
I think it’s a great achievement, no matter the school. The real dirty secret is that despite Florida State having a great tradition of football, no one on its current roster has been to a BCS bowl, and the team has not made one since 2006.
While no one on the team will admit the pressure, Compher does know the world is watching, and judging what the MAC school does.
“I think there’s a responsibility that we have representing the MAC as the first representative from the MAC to play in a BCS game,” Compher said. “That’s to be expected. You have to embrace it and understand that’s part of who we are as a program.”
While that sense of responsibility may not be felt by the players, they do know they are responsible for representing themselves and their team.
We’ll see if pride and a no-quit attitude of the Huskies can overcome the tradition and high-profile of the Seminoles come game day.