Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill knew his Huskies would be playing in a bowl. He just didn’t know where.
Sunday, just before the annual football banquet, he found out NIU would be playing in the International Bowl at 11 a.m. on Jan. 2 at Rogers Centre in Toronto against South Florida on ESPN2.
“It’s a great opportunity. There’s no question,” Kill said. “I think we’ve kind of been in limbo where we were going. We heard two or three different directions and actually this direction kind of surprised me a little bit. But we’re certainly very very excited.”
This will be the first appearance in the International Bowl for the 7-5 Huskies and the first time NIU will play in back-to-back bowl games in the school’s history as a major college program.
NIU will make its fourth bowl appearance since 2004.
As expected, the sticking point in the entire bowl selection process for the Huskies was 9-3 Temple, which will play either UCLA or 5-6 Army if it defeats Navy on Saturday to become bowl-eligible in the EagleBank Bowl.
“You just hear different scenarios during the week,” Kill said. “I thought we could have headed a couple of different directions. You had heard that Temple might be the one going there with rumor mill. We’re just glad it turned out the way it is and we’re going to get to play.”
The Huskies and Bulls each finished the regular season with 7-5 records.
Both teams lost the final two games of their season, with NIU falling at Ohio and at Central Michigan and South Florida losing at home to Miami and at Connecticut. Kill said he has familiarity with South Florida, an area he has recruited. The Bulls’ athletic director, Doug Woolard, is from Carbondale, where Kill coached at Southern Illinois.
“I know a lot about South Florida, their athletic director is from Carbondale. I know a lot about their program, coach [Jim] Leavitt’s done a great job,” Kill said. “They have one of the best defensive ends in the country (George Selvie). They’re very athletic. I mean, very, very athletic. We’ll see more speed than we’ve seen all year and it will be a great challenge for our program.”
Kill also said defensive tackle Brian Lawson, who has been out since the Toledo game on Oct. 17 with a hand/finger injury, will be cleared for the game.
“I know that will make Jake Coffman happy because he can go back out to defensive end,” Kill said.
Three other MAC teams accepted bowl bids. Conference champion Central Michigan will play Troy in the GMAC Bowl, Ohio plays Marshall in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and Bowling Green will take on Idaho in the Humanitarian Bowl.
NIU will also offer one free ticket to the first 500 Northern Illinois students who request them. Students should come to the Convocation Center ticket office or call the office at 815-752-6800 and bring proper identification.