AKRON, Ohio – Central Michigan seems resolved to bequeathing its supremacy in the Mid-American Conference West division, falling to 1-2 in the MAC after a shocking 31-17 home loss to Ball State on Saturday.
A few hours later, Northern Illinois showed it’s prepared to grab the crown from the Chippewas – who have won the MAC West three of the last four years – as the Huskies (3-2, 1-0 MAC) routed Akron 50-14.
“I think this is about as good as we’ve played since I’ve been here,” NIU junior quarterback Chandler Harnish said. “Just a well-rounded, well-played game.”
The Huskies dominated in every facet.
NIU looked like a Steve Spurrier coached Florida team, passing for 292 yards, proving it is willing and able to win through the air. But the MAC’s most dominant rushing attack didn’t get away from its bread and butter either, rushing for 228 yards on 47 attempts.
A defense that has struggled to force turnovers had two interceptions, and Devon Butler scored the NIU defense’s first touchdown of the season off one.
Besides a mystery miss on an extra point, the Huskies’ special teams is finally stable as kicker Michael Cklamovski made all three of his field-goal attempts (27, 27 and 43 yards) to improve his consecutive make streak to six.
The Huskies now are a complete football team.
“This is huge to come in here and play well,” Harnish said. “It’s never easy to play on the road. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. To play a complete game – defensively, special-teams wise, offensively – is really encouraging. Our confidence levels are going to be as high as ever going into Temple.”
OK, so Akron (0-5, 0-1 MAC) isn’t a very good football team. But the Huskies didn’t play down to its competition, like it did when it escaped with a 23-17 week 2 win over North Dakota.
NIU showed no mercy, dominating from start to finish. That’s what champions do.
And after Saturday’s dismantling of Akron and results from the rest of the conference schedule, the Huskies sure look like the best in the MAC West.
Toledo (3-2, 2-0 MAC) has the early lead in the West. But NIU, projected to win the MAC West by a preseason media poll and several national publications, has done everything to back up the hype over the last three weeks.
A competitive 28-22 loss at Illinois in week 3 revealed that after an ugly 1-1 start, NIU still had the potential. A 34-23 win at Minnesota last week showed the Huskies are for real.
Saturday’s annihilation of Akron proved NIU is the team to beat.
Still, Saturday was just the first step in the Huskies’ quest for the MAC title, a trophy that has eluded NIU since 1983.
“I’m one of the older guys now,” redshirt junior linebacker Pat Schiller said. “I remember what it felt like to go through a 2-10 season (in 2007). We’re not getting complacent at all. Every victory is awesome. That’s what we got to instill in these young guys. We got to come out every single week because college football is crazy the way it works sometimes. If we don’t come out hard every week, we could get caught.”
• Jeremy Werner is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org