After being tested multiple times throughout its non-conference schedule, NIU football is ready to focus solely on MAC play for the rest of the season.
While the Huskies (3-1) went up against a strong non-conference schedule in two BCS teams in Iowa and Kansas, starting MAC play will be no easy task, as there are many talented teams to worry about.
While NIU defeated Kansas, 30-23, and nearly defeated Iowa, 18-17, other teams in the MAC were also having success against teams from the BCS.
Last week, three other MAC teams earned wins against BCS schools. Ball State won its second BCS game this season over South Florida, 31-27, after defeating Big 10 opponent, Indiana, 41-39, in the previous week.
Western Michigan took down Connecticut, 30-24, while Central Michigan managed to do what NIU could not: Defeat Iowa, 32-31, in Iowa City.
That makes NIU’s matchup with Central Michigan this week even more intriguing. Not only were the Chippewas able to defeat Iowa this season, but they handed NIU its only MAC-season loss last season.
This goes to show that teams in the MAC aren’t pushovers and are not to be taken lightly. The Huskies learned this from their experience with Central Michigan last season and know that there are other improving teams.
“There’s a lot of coaches that have been able to stay where they’re at for three or four years and develop their players,” said coach Dave Doeren in a teleconference. “You’re seeing the benefit of that now.”
NIU finds itself in a similar position to last season’s schedule. It opens up with Central Michigan again with only MAC games following. That seems to be the way Doeren prefers it.
“I like the separation myself,” Doeren said in a teleconference. “I think it gives your football team kind of a chance to refocus. When you’re playing well in the non-conference it’s a little, maybe different than when you’re not. I know last year, we came out of the non-conference 2-2 and all of the sudden felt like we were sitting 0-0 again and had a breath of fresh air and went on a run.”
This was the case for NIU last season, before it dropped its first conference game to Central Michigan. After its loss last season, though, the team went on to run the table in the MAC and win the MAC championship.
The Huskies find themselves in a bit of a better situation this season, sitting at 3-1, as opposed to their record of 2-2 last season, going into MAC play.