Huskies picked 2nd in West

By Steve Brown

DETROIT – NIU football coach Joe Novak didn’t disagree with the MAC News Media Association’s preseason choice of Toledo over the Huskies in the MAC West.

“If I was picking, that’s probably the way I’d pick,” the 10th-year head coach said. “They’re the team to beat.”

The poll results were announced July 26 at the MAC’s preseason media day. NIU trailed Toledo 237-220 in voting for the West Division winner. Bowling Green was the No. 1 pick in the East, beating Miami 241-221.

Two years ago, it was Novak’s team which was picked to win the MAC West. The Huskies won their first seven games, moving as high as No. 12 in the AP rankings, before losing to Toledo and Bowling Green in the final five games, eventually finishing third in the division.

“Honestly, that’s the media and I don’t think it makes that much of a difference,” Novak said.

But it does point out what will perhaps be the Huskies’ biggest obstacle in the way of an outright MAC championship: The Rockets, whom NIU hasn’t beaten since 1989. NIU plays its division rival Nov. 16 at the Glass Bowl in a game that may decide the MAC West championship.

So does that make the Toledo-NIU game the season’s most important game for the Huskies?

“It will be if we take care [of] business going into that game,” Novak said. “We’ve got to put ourselves in that position first.”

Toledo will be led by Bruce Gradkowski, who, along with Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green, was among the NCAA’s top five in passing yards. Gradkowski’s 162.56 quarterback rating was also good enough for fifth among Division-I passers.

NIU’s most experienced quarterback is Phil Horvath, who played in nine games last season.

“He’s played a lot of football, and when you look at the preseason predictions, the teams that rank well are usually the ones with experienced quarterbacks,” Novak said. “That’s one question mark for us.”