2010 MAC Championship - Miami vs. N. Illinois
Miami WR Armand Robinson
Miami WR Armand Robinson
Posted Dec 3, 2010

The preview and prediction for the 2010 MAC Championship - Miami Univ. vs. Northern Illinois

2010 MAC Championship

Miami Univ. vs. No. Illinois

East   Akron | Bowling Green | Buffalo | Kent State | Miami Univ. | Ohio | Temple
West  Ball State | Central Mich | Eastern Mich | Northern Illinois | Toledo | West Michigan

CFN MAC Predictions: SU: 81-18   ATS: 40-49

- Part 2: Players To Watch, What Each Team Must Do & Prediction
And it's not even close, in relative terms, Northern Illinois is the best team in college football over the last decade to not win a conference title.

Once among the dregs of college football, Joe Novak started to turn everything around in 1999, and from 2000 on, the Huskies have had nine winning seasons (including this year) and have been the league's most consistent program. Novak had the team in 2005 that should've won it all, but it lost to Akron on a miraculous late score to lose 31-30 to blow a chance at the title as well as a bowl appearance. This year, head coach Jerry Kill appears to have the team ready to finish the job that Novak began.

National Rankings
85th Total
27th Total
104th Scoring
50th Scoring
114th Rushing
24th Rushing
40th Passing
48th Passing
23rd Turnover
Position Rankings
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
2.5 QBs 4
2.5 RBs 5
4 WRs 3
2 O Line 4.5
4 D Line 4
3.5 LBs 4
3.5 DBs 4
3 STs 3
4 Coach 4
Things slipped in 2007 with a rough 2-10 season marred by an array of injuries and with four close losses by six points or fewer that could've easily have gone the other way. Kill came in and got things rolling again with two straight bowl appearances (both losses), but this was Central Michigan's league over the last four years. This season, NIU has been dominant in its best season in school history.

The Huskies couldn't get the ground game going in the season opener against Iowa State, and struggled in a 28-22 loss to Illinois that looks far better now than it did at the time, and then, beginning with a win at Minnesota, NIU has been unstoppable winning nine straight games while blowing through the MAC slate without breathing hard with the exception of a 28-21 win at Western Michigan. Granted, there are plenty of Eastern Michigans and Buffalos on the slate, but the Huskies blew away Toledo 65-30 and dominated Temple, too.

NIU might be the star of the league this year, but Miami might be the story. A one-time MAC powerhouse with winning records from 1995 to 2006, and a MAC Championship appearance in 2007, the program fell off the map over the last two years going 3-21 including a 1-11 record in Mike Haywood's first season. But in a phenomenal turnaround, the RedHawks started to find their way through the conference season with a strong defense and an offense that did just enough to get by. Just enough.

104th in the nation in scoring and 85th in total offense, the attack sputters and struggles way too much and it doesn't score, failing to hang more than 27 points on the board over the last nine games. Even so, Hawyood's bunch has found ways to win with the lone conference loss coming against Ohio at home. But everything worked out with the breaks needed late and a dominant 23-3 win over Temple to get to the title game. While there aren't a slew of great wins on the résumé, no one's going to complain about the program's best season since 2004.

Do the RedHawks have enough in the bag to make this interesting? The MAC title game used to be terrific, with every game from 1998 to 2005 decided by a touchdown or less. The last four games have been blowouts with last year's CMU 20-10 snoozer over Ohio the closes of the bunch. Northern Illinois has the ability and the potential to make this a fifth straight uggo. The strong MU defense will have to come up with its best performance of the year, and NIU will have to gag. That wouldn't be new for the MAC Championship with Buffalo shocking a fantastic Ball State team in 2008, and, of course, the NIU loss to Akron in 2005.

Players to Watch: NIU senior RB Chad Spann came up with a phenomenal junior season with 1,038 yards and 19 touchdowns, and despite everyone focusing on stopping him, he came up with 1,239 yards and 20 scores in an even bigger campaign. A 5-9, 198-pound speedster, he's able to not only tear off yards in chunks, but also serve as a workhorse who works great inside and out. Last year's 156-yard, two touchdown day against MU wasn't the official kickoff of his phenomenal run of great games, but it was close, and he'll be rested and ready to roll after only needing to carry the ball 17 times in the 59-21 win over Ball State and seven times, with 88 yards and two scores, in the 71-3 nailbiter against Eastern Michigan.

For Miami, the good news is that QB Zac Dysert was so good that he earned Second-Team All-MAC honors. The bad news is that he's been out the last few weeks and won't play this week after suffering a lacerated spleen. Sophomore Austin Boucher stepped in and won the two games he needed to come up with completing 37-of-60 passes with two touchdowns and an interception against Akron and Temple. He's not Dysert, but he's a nice passer with excellent mobility, running for 37 yards against the Owls. He might not have to bomb away for the RedHawks to make this interesting, but he has to keep the mistakes to a minimum and by arm or by legs, he has to keep the chains moving.

While Spann is the star of the Huskies, and Boucher is the key quarterback in the game, NIU QB Chandler Harnish could turn out to be the game's most important player. The MU defense is good enough to hold Spann in check, and Harnish has to get the passing game going a bit to go along with his rushing ability. A good runner early on in his career, he has turned out to become a dangerous weapon with 761 rushing yards and five scores, while throwing 17 touchdown passes and just five interceptions. He doesn't make mistakes, keeps the chains moving, and has been deadly accurate over the last three games completing 34-of-51 passes with five touchdown passes and just a pick as the Huskie attack has scored a total of 195 points.

Miami will win if ... the score is kept lowwwwwwwww. If this gets into a shootout in any way, or if MU has to try to make a comeback, it's going to be ugly. The NIU ground game is deadly at grinding out yards and eating up clock, and while the MU run defense has been fantastic, allowing just 124 yards per game, the offense hasn't benefitted. 0-4 this year when allowing more than 21 points, MU has to force turnovers, come up with third down stops, and keep the game played on the other end of the field to keep the Huskies from getting up big.

The MU defensive front has to camp out in the backfield. While the RedHawks don't sell out to hit the quarterback or get behind the line, they're able to get production from several spots and they're great at stopping good ground games before they get going averaging 7.5 tackles for loss per game. Great at taking the ball away, MU has come up with 29 turnovers with at least two takeaways in five of the last six games. NIU doesn't turn the ball over, but the RedHawks have to find a way to by at last +2.

Northern Illinois will win if ... it gets up big right away. The NIU offensive line turned out to be the best in the league and it was able to control games against everyone. There weren't many games against great run defenses, but the offense was able to do a little bit of everything with the MAC's most efficient passing attack to go along with the running of Chad Spann and Chandler Harnish. To go back to the scoring, and MU's inability to do it, the RedHawks haven't won when allowing more than 21 points, but NIU hasn't scored fewer than 22 since the opener against Iowa State. MU's best scoring output this year was 31 points against Colorado State, while NIU has scored 31 points or more in eight of its last nine games. Simply put, NIU might be able to simply outbomb the RedHawks.

To stop the MU offense, you have to stop the short passing game. The RedHawks don't have any semblance of a running game, and don't have the offensive line to pound away, but the passing attack could be a problem against the nation's 16th best pass efficiency defense. NIU isn't great at getting into the backfield and it doesn't pop the quarterback, but the linebackers swarm around the ball in a hurry and the secondary is terrific at keeping the short plays to a minimum. MU isn't going to be able to push the ball deep in any way.

What will happen: It'll be a coronation. Miami has had a fantastic year and it has the defense to keep this from being a blowout right away, but the offense isn't there, and the ground game isn't in place, to stop the avalanche. It'll take a major choke for the Huskies to blow this game, and they won't do it with the balanced attack keeping up the pressure to force Boucher to bomb away. That's when the mistakes will come.

CFN Prediction: Northern Illinois 37 … Miami University 17 ... Line: Northern Illinois -17
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