NIU bowl possibilities limited

By Thom Gippert

It’s getting to be that time of the year. No, not the build-up to finals, but the nervous days for college coaches awaiting bids to bowl games.

The obvious matchups—such as Notre Dame playing Colorado in the Orange Bowl and Michigan facing Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl—are pretty well set.

But the issue becomes complicated when the less prestigious bowl games start choosing teams.

For NIU, a bowl bid has been a goal of this year’s squad for some time. The Huskies, with their 8-2 record, believe they deserve a bid or at least some consideration for a bid.

The likely choices for bowl games that would consider NIU are the Independence, Liberty and Copper Bowls, the latter of which is in its initial season.

The Huskies feel they have a lot to offer to a bowl game. NIU head coach Jerry Pettibone recently was honored by The Sporting News as its eighth choice for National Coach of the Year. Quarterback Stacey Robinson is the nation’s leading rushing quarterback and is the 13th leading rusher overall, averaging 116.2 yards per game. As for total rushing offense, the Huskies are seventh in the nation, averaging 310 yards per game. On defense, NIU is 33rd in overall rushing defense, yielding 134 yards per contest.

This Saturday, the Huskies will travel to the University of Cincinnati to take on the 1-8-1 Bearcats. According to Pettibone, there is a chance that a bowl representative from the Independence Bowl will be at the game. As of last Saturday, no bowl representatives had come to DeKalb to watch the Huskies.

However, Penny Lee, information director for the Independence Bowl, said Tuesday NIU is not currently on the list of teams that bowl is presently considering. Lee did say, though, that NIU was on the list several weeks ago.

Lee said South Carolina, Mississippi State, Florida and Kentucky are on the immediate list of possibilities. She could not confirm or deny if a bowl representative was going to be at this weekend’s matchup in Cincinnati.

The Liberty Bowl will send representatives to six games this weekend, but most likely not to the NIU-Cincinnati game. The bowl is keeping an eye on several games, but The Northern Star was unable to find whether the NIU game is one of those to be watched.

Lee said one of the major criteria for a team’s selection to a bowl is its potential to fill a stadium with fans.

“We need to pack the stadium, put people in the stands,” Lee said.

Liberty Bowl Information Director Rudi Schiffer echoed that statement.

“It depends on how many fans you can bring, that’s what it boils down to these days,” Schiffer said.

The Independence Bowl has formed an alliance among a group of southern Universities from which the host school for the contest is selcted. The opposing team would be an at-large school. Southwestern Louisiana was one team being considered as the host school, but the Ragin‘ Cajuns’ 23-20 loss to NIU seems to have ruined their chances.

The Independence Bowl, played in Shreveport, La., will be played on Dec. 16 and the Liberty Bowl, in Memphis, Tenn., will be played on Dec. 28.

The Liberty Bowl, Schiffer said, recently signed a five-year agreement to take the Armed Services winner for the game. The other team would be an at-large team. Schiffer said Air Force and Mississippi are the odds-on-favorites to be this year’s teams.

The possibility still could be alive for NIU to go to a bowl game, and Pettibone said after the Toledo game on Saturday that some of the front-runners would have to lose in order for NIU to have the possibility. Several teams—such as Tulsa, Army and Iowa—were close to being locks for bowl games, but their losses over the weekend virtually destroyed their chances.