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2012 MAC Championship. Kent State vs. NIU
Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch
Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch
Posted Nov 30, 2012

Week 14 Fearless Prediction - MAC Championship. Kent State vs. Northern Illinois

Kent State (11-1) vs. Northern Illinois (11-1) Nov. 30, 7:00, ESPN2

Here’s The Deal: It’s the biggest and most important game in the history of the MAC. All of a sudden, not only is the showdown for the conference title between the two best teams, the chance is there for the winner to finally give the league something the Mountain West and WAC have already been able to boast – a BCS team.

Of course, a large portion of America – and the entire Oklahoma and Clemson nations – are going to be rooting hard for a strange clunker of a game that doesn’t help either team in the rankings, but the reality is that a BCS spotlight game is there for the taking, especially by Kent State.

If the MAC champion finishes in the top 16 in the final BCS rankings and is ahead of a champion from one of the BCS conferences, it gets an automatic invite. Currently, Kent State is on the doorstep at No. 17, and if No. 16 UCLA loses to Stanford or if No. 13 Florida State loses to Georgia Tech or No. 12 Nebraska loses to Wisconsin, moving up that one slot might not be a problem.

There’s a bit more traffic for Northern Illinois, currently ranked 21st, but with an impressive win on Friday night, moving up in the human polls won’t be a problem and there’s still a shot to sneak into the No. 16 role.

There. That’s the narrative. That’s why everyone is going to keep one eye on the game and another on what’s happening in the Pac-12 championship. However, on its own, this should be a whale of a ball game.

Kent State has been bowling just once – getting into the 1972 Tangerine Bowl, losing to Tampa 21-18 – and worse yet, the team hasn’t had a winning season since 1977. This might not be the dominant defensive team that roared at times over the last few years, and it’s not an offensive juggernaut, but it’s brilliant at keeping the mistakes to a minimum. Head coach Darrell Hazell has turned into a red hot candidate for bigger jobs, but for now, he could become legendary with one more win, a MAC title and a big game against a big boy on the big stage. However, the Golden Flashes lone loss was to Kentucky by 33 points. There was a nice 35-23 win over Rutgers, and blowing away Ohio and getting by Ball State and Bowling Green aren’t that bad, but coming up with a dominant win over the Huskies would do wonders to convince the world that the team is for real.

Northern Illinois is shooting for its second straight MAC title in its third straight appearance after rolling through the conference schedule. The lone loss came in the opener against Iowa in the final moments, but that has been it. Three of the wins were tight, but for the most part the Huskies have had few problems thanks to a dominant offense and a defense that’s getting into the backfield without a problem.

NIU has won five straight over KSU including a 40-10 blasting last season. Over the last three seasons, the Huskies are 24-2 in the MAC. 25-2 would firmly establish the program as the league’s dominant superpower.

Why Kent State Might Win: The Golden Flashes force their own breaks. The 66 penalties on the year aren’t too many, especially considering that 19 came in a two-game stretch early on, but real key is turnover margin. KSU is second in the nation behind Kansas State, helped by giving the ball away 15 times on the year. Turnovers have been a slight problem lately with seven in the last three games, but the defense does an outstanding job of picking up the slack with seven takeaways of its own over the stretch and an impressive 35 on the season.

Defensively, the pass rush has kicked it into high gear at just the right time with eight sacks last week against Ohio and 18 over the last five games. This is an aggressive group that will sell out, and while the secondary will give up yards, the defense has a habit of coming through when it’s time to make a really big play. However …

Why Northern Illinois Might Win: The Kent State defense will give up yards. Northern Illinois has become an offensive machine thanks to a line that keeps Jordan Lynch upright and clean. Lynch might be the key to the attack, but the rest of the skill players get an opportunity to work, too, thanks to a front five that has allowed just ten sacks on the season and is paving the way for a nearly-perfect balance on offense. Kent State hasn’t faced an offense this efficient and this effective all season.

There isn’t much to a KSU passing attack that has gone over 200 yards just once since September. This is a pure running team that relies on getting the big play after forcing a slow trickle of nice runs, but NIU has the linebackers and the aggressive front seven to get to the backs before they can get going. Kent State might be hot over the last month when it comes to getting to the quarterback, but NIU has been steady and effective for the entire second half of the season. With a whopping 34 sacks and 86 tackles for loss, the defense has been among the productive in the country in terms of getting into the backfield.

What To Watch Out For: America, it’s time to pay attention to two of the nation’s best players. Kent State running back Dri Archer has been an all-around bolt of lightning, averaging 9.7 yards per carry with 1,337 yards and seven scores, while catching 30 passes for 458 yards and four touchdowns. Throw in the three touchdowns on kickoff returns, and he’s fifth in the nation in all-purpose yardage. Unstoppable against Bowling Green with 241 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, he’s a home-run hitter who has to be accounted for on every play.

Baylor’s Nick Florence leads the nation in total offense, and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is second. NIU’s Jordan Lynch is third with a special year running for 1,611 yards and 16 touchdowns with 2,750 passing yards, 23 scores and just four picks. How tight has he been? His interception against Toledo is the only one since September 22nd. Meanwhile, he has weaved his way to 100 yards rushing in every game except for the win over UT-Martin, running for three touchdowns in the blowout win. This is his time and this might be his game. The junior will be one of the hot stars going into next year, but it all starts now.

What Will Happen: Northern Illinois will have a fight on its hands. Kent State’s running game will work, and Archer will come up with a few big runs, but the Huskies will hang around, hang around, hang around, and then the run will come. Lynch will be the story with yet another 100-yard rushing day as he gets the Huskies really, really close to the BCS.

CFN Prediction: Northern Illinois 38 … Kent State 30
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Northern Illinois -6 O/U: 58
Must Watch Rating (5 – Crossfire Hurricane, 1 – Comic Book Men: 5