No doubt NIU best football team in Illinois

By Frank Gogola

NIU (2-0) could boast that it’s been the best college football program in the Land of Lincoln over the past decade-plus, and it wouldn’t be wrong.

But, it wasn’t until Saturday the Huskies earned the bragging rights to back up their claim of being Illinois’ best college football team, beating the Northwestern Wildcats 23-15.

Since the 1997 season, when NIU went 0-11 and the University of Illinois Fighting Illini went 0-11 and Northwestern went 5-7, the Huskies have won more games than any of the three Football Bowl Subdivision schools in Illinois. They’ve tallied a 123-78 (.612) record while the Wildcats have gone 95-103 (.480) and the Fighting Illini have posted a 78-115 (.404) record.

But, the Huskies had never earned a win over their in-state FBS rivals prior to Saturday. They were 0-6-1 all-time against Northwestern and 0-4 all-time against Illinois before they went into Evanston and knocked off the Wildcats.

“We don’t stick our heads in the sand and say that this isn’t special. It certainly is,” said head coach Rod Carey after Saturday’s win. “But at the same time you can’t attack big expectations unless you have daily work ethic, and these guys have it. And that’s how you have to attack it. It doesn’t matter what game’s in front of us, it’s the biggest game because it’s the next one. And that’s how you go about your business, and these guys are.”

Sure, it can be argued NIU plays easier competition in the MAC than Northwestern or Illinois play in the Big Ten; however, the Huskies have shown they can hold their own in the Big Ten.

Last season the Huskies became the first team in MAC history to beat two Big Ten teams in the same regular season, winning on the road at Iowa and Purdue. Saturday, they added a third-straight victory over a Big Ten team to that collection.

“It’s good that we get to come in and beat a Big Ten team at their home, but again, it’s just win No. 2,” said redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Hare after Saturday’s victory. “We’re going to celebrate for 24 hours and move on.”

While the Huskies have already moved on to preparing for Saturday’s game against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Rebels, they — and the fans — now have the state’s bragging rights to add to the program’s impressive streaks of 27 consecutive home wins, 25 straight regular season wins and 16 consecutive wins in true road games.

Now, the question is when will NIU have the chance to defend those bragging rights.

#SchedulePalooza2, anybody?