CFN Analysis: NIU beats Kent State in OT
Posted Dec 1, 2012

Northern Illinois wins a second straight MAC title in a thriller over Kent State.

Northern Illinois 44, Kent State 37 2OT

E-mail Pete Fiutak
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It seems like ancient history now, but there was a time not all that long ago when Northern Illinois was one of the laughing stocks of college football. From 1991 to 1999, the Huskies failed to come up with a winning season, bottoming out with mid-1990s run going 1-30. Thanks to Joe Novak, the program rose up and became a MAC powerhouse, but he couldn’t get over the hump and win a conference title.

Jerry Kill did a tremendous job and put together a juggernaut in 2010, but his team gagged away the title game to Miami University.

Dave Doeren stepped in when Kill went off to Minnesota and he not only built on what his predecessors created, but he improved on it with a MAC title last year and a repeat performance this year.

Not that Kent State didn’t make it really, really interesting.

The Golden Flashes might not be going to the BCS, and they might have lost the MAC title in tough, double-overtime fashion, but they battled back hard in the final five minutes of regulation and almost pulled it off. But Northern Illinois didn’t panic, got the clutch plays needed in overtime, and Doeren has back-to-back titles with a team on a 12-game winning streak.

This was supposed to be a bit of a rebuilding season, but NIU came back stronger than ever. However, soon the program will have to go on without Doeren, who’s destined for a much bigger job, but for now, because of the coaching legacy, NIU has its confirmation as the league’s powerhouse.


- Jordan Lynch was Jordan Lynch with 160 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, and 212 passing yards and a touchdown through the air. Was it enough for the NIU quarterback to get a few Heisman votes? He deserves a few No. 3s.

- Kent State star Dri Archer was held to 15 yards on 12 carries, but he scored a touchdown and caught five passes for 80 yards. However, outside of the 60-yard pass play, he was held in check.

- Thank goodness a game like this didn’t come down to a missed kick. NIU’s Mathew Sims and KSU’s Freddy Cortez each came through in clutch spots, especially in overtime. Each one hit all three of their attempts.

- It might not show up on the stat sheet, but NIU DE Alan Baxter dominated. He came up with four tackles and half a sack, but he was always in the backfield and always generating pressure. Defensive tackle Ken Bishop also did a nice job of stuffing things up with eight tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss.

By Matt Zemek
E-mail Matt Zemek

We're going to have another decimal-point drama on Sunday, as the winner of the final at-large BCS bowl slot will be a mystery for a few more days. Kent State could have given clarity to the end of college football's regular season, but Northern Illinois's double-overtime victory on Friday night in Detroit will muddle the picture. Let's divide this assessment of the MAC Championship Game into two parts: First, how the game was won (and lost); second, what it means for the BCS and for college football.

How was the game won and lost? Jordan Lynch won it with his virtuosity and toughness. Northern Illinois frankly should have landed a knockout punch at several stages along the way. Lynch threw a momentum-busting interception in the first half when the Huskies were driving and leading 17-10, but on several other occasions, Lynch's teammates committed blunders that enabled Kent State to improbably remain in the hunt. Northern Illinois led, 24-13, and was driving in the red zone, but a timid second-down run short of the sticks gave Kent State's defense a reprieve. Later, NIU led 27-13 midway through the fourth quarter and reached the KSU 35, but conservative play selections caused a drive to stall, enabling the Golden Flashes to remain down by only two possessions when the flow of play suggested that they should have been trailing by four.

However, when Kent State tied the score at 27 with under five minutes left in regulation, Lynch answered the call. When NIU kicker Mathew Sims drilled a clutch 40-yard field goal to keep the Huskies alive (that play shouldn't be forgotten in the larger scheme of things), Lynch – handed one more chance to make good – remained a viable threat so that his teammate, Akeem Daniels, could bust off a 22-yard run to the KSU 3. Lynch pounded in the go-ahead touchdown, and his defense did the rest. Lynch wobbled at times, and it's certainly true that he'd encounter much tougher sledding in a power conference, but if the Heisman Trophy wants to be seen as a more progressive and enlightened awards competition, Lynch should be in New York on Dec. 8.

How was this game lost by Kent State? The fundamental irony within the Golden Flashes' valiant but slightly insufficient performance is that they were so bold on so many occasions, only to become tentative in a moment of truth. The reverse on third and one in the first overtime – in which tight end Tim Erjavec fumbled – looked to be a successful play had Erjavec not dropped the ball. Kent State and offensive coordinator Brian Rock went for the brass ring on that play. The Golden Flashes didn't play scared in that instance. Yet, when Kent State had a chance to win the game on one offensive play (in a shootout, remember…) with 44 seconds left in regulation, head coach Darrell Hazell – who has been so superb all season long – opted to kick the PAT. Hazell gave Jordan Lynch another chance (two, it turned out) to win, and that cost him.

Now, about the MAC's bowl picture… let's just say that its Facebook status is very, very complicated.

Entering this game, you had your opinion on the BCS worthiness of Kent State and Northern Illinois. I had my opinion, too. It was important to give this game a full look (and watch the second half from Detroit instead of the early third quarter of the Pac-12 Championship Game). It was important to evaluate these teams on the merits after devoting time to the big boys during the first 13 weeks of the season.

Did NIU and Kent State put on a show? Yes. This game was terrifically entertaining, and it was contested with as much passion and determination as you could possibly hope for. Were these teams worthy of a BCS game? Let's unpack this discussion a little bit.

First of all, while Kent State received most BCS publicity and buzz this week because of the rankings, Northern Illinois has now defended its MAC title from 2011. The Huskies' loss to Iowa is not as bad as Kent's loss to Kentucky. NIU has the better resume and is more worthy of a BCS bid than Kent State. Is it enough to deserve BCS inclusion? It's hard to say. However, don't let the Kent State BCS drama of the past week allow you to overlook what Northern Illinois accomplished on Friday. Let's at least make that point clear.

Moving along, should NIU be in a BCS game? Probably not, but let's not end the discussion there. The MAC has co-existed with the Sun Belt at the bottom of the non-power conferences in Division I football. An unbeaten season against a weak schedule or a massive scalp (a huge win, say, against a top-12 team) in a one-loss season should be needed to get a MAC team to a BCS game. However, if you disagree and think that one bad game shouldn't be held against a MAC team, you're making a perfectly reasonable argument in a season when even the ACC, Big Ten, and Big East have been noticeably mediocre.

The simplified conclusion to reach is this: Whether you think Northern Illinois is worthy of a BCS game or not, the bowl system ought to put the Huskies in a game that honors their achievements. NIU should play a team such as Clemson or the Pac-12 runner-up or Texas A&M in a high-visibility contest. College football should make it a priority to – like college basketball – promote occasions in which its smaller programs get legitimate chances to prove their worth against the big guys.

Will Northern Illinois get this kind of opportunity if it doesn't land in the top 16? Probably not. SHOULD it get that kind of opportunity? Without question.