It’s always been the goal: Win the MAC Championship.
But every season, no matter how successful, NIU seems to come up short on its goal.
Well, at long last, the day to take it to the next level has arrived.
At 6:30 p.m. today, at Ford Field in Detroit, the Huskies take on Akron in the MAC Championship game on ESPN.
The game showcases two teams that have never been to the championship, but know each other very well.
On Sept. 24, the Huskies came back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter only to lose 48-42 in overtime.
As NIU coach Joe Novak said after last Wednesday’s MAC-West-clinching win over Western Michigan, “We owe them one.”
In that game against the Zips, the Akron defense was able to hold the NIU running attack to 50 yards, forcing the Huskies to pass throughout most of the game.
The memory of that top-ranked defense in the MAC hasn’t escaped Novak’s mind.
“They’re very talented on defense,” Novak said. “That front seven is as good as any in the league. So, yes, that’s a concern of ours. We play better when we rush the football.”
On the opposite side of the field, Akron coach JD Brookhart remembers what his players did last time and the amount of points his team put up. But he still has concerns.
At times through this season the Zip offense, which ranks seventh in the MAC, has been inconsistent. Great for one half and nonexistent the next, Brookhart is hoping his team can continue its recent streak of consistency.
“I’m happy with how the offense has been playing as of late,” Brookhart said. “We’ve been running the ball a lot better and our offensive line has grown and matured.”
While Brookhart has concerns, offense has never been a problem between these two teams. In the nine prior meetings, the two have an average of 82 combined points.
But while both teams remember the past, today’s game is about the future.
With Toledo accepting its invitation to play in the GMAC Bowl, the winner of tonight’s game has an automatic bid for the Motor City Bowl right back at Ford Field Dec. 28.
If NIU wins it would mean back to back years going to a bowl game for the first time since it went to the Mineral Water Bowl in 1962 and ’63. For Akron, it would be its first trip to a bowl game since the Pioneer Bowl back in 1976.
Tonight two teams will step onto Ford Field for the first time. One seeking revenge from earlier in the season. The other looking for respect in the MAC. But in the end, making it to Detroit just won’t cut it.
As Brookhart said, “It’s a great accomplishment [to make it to the MAC Championship], but lets be honest, we want to win the game.”