MUNCIE, Ind. – Do backflips, Northern Illinois fans.
That’s how NIU running back Jasmin Hopkins celebrated the Huskies' clinching of their first Mid-American Conference West Division title since 2005 following a 59-21 rout of Ball State at Scheumann Stadium on Saturday.
But let’s face it, most of us knew NIU was a sure thing to make the MAC Championship Game following its 65-30 Week 10 throttling of Toledo on ESPN2.
Not to pat ourselves on the back because it really was a foregone conclusion, but we at the Daily Chronicle knew it, booking our hotel room for Detroit on Wednesday.
You knew it. The online NIU fan message boards were littered with weekend plans surrounding the Dec. 3 conference title game slate.
The NIU media relations department knew it. Within an hour of the win, the homepage of the NIU athletics website featured a graphic congratulating the Huskies on winning the MAC West, a concoction undoubtedly created before Saturday’s final whistle.
Though he’d never admit it, Jerry Kill knew his squad was destined for Detroit even though he tried to keep his team and himself from looking past the Cardinals (4-8, 3-5 MAC).
“Even for people of my age, your mind can drift to other places,” Kill said. “But they were focused [Saturday] and they took care of what they needed to do.”
With yet another MAC West blowout on Saturday – NIU has outscored its four divisional opponents 185-79 – the Huskies (9-2, 7-0 MAC) sealed what preseason prognosticators predicted and what we all knew in the 11 days since their razing of the Rockets: NIU is the undeniable king of the MAC West.
The Huskies dominated in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams – and actually scored in all three phases. Freshman special teams phenom Jimmie Ward picked up Jordan Delegal’s blocked punt for a 15-yard touchdown, and linebacker Tyrone Clark returned a fourth-quarter interception for a 16-yard touchdown.
And behind an ever-dominant offense, the Huskies set the team’s single-season scoring record with 423 points (the 2004 team had 421) – and they still have three games left!
Yes, three games. It’s now safe to say that NIU will book its third consecutive bowl bid, never before done in school history, and that BCS teams fear the Huskies will pop up on their late December/early January schedule.
“Thinking back eight weeks ago when we were starting the MAC season, I knew we were a good team,” said NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish, who passed for 247 yards and two touchdowns. “I didn’t know we were a team that would put up 50 points a game every week. But we’ve definitely turned into a powerhouse.”
• Jeremy Werner is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org