DETROIT – Still devastated, Northern Illinois fans probably don’t want to think about a bowl game following Friday’s 26-21 last-minute loss to Miami (Ohio) in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game.
But for the Huskies (10-3) – who were favored by 17.5 points on Friday – the impending bowl game is a chance at redeeming the loss to the RedHawks (9-4), the Huskies second heartbreaking defeat in two trips to Ford Field for the MAC title game.
“We’re going to play the bowl game and we’re going to play it tough, like we bounced back every week,” said NIU linebacker Alex Kube during an emotional postgame news conference Friday. “I’m not going to lay down and (say), ‘This is over with.’ I’m going to come back and I’m going to continue to lead and I know the guys next to me are going to do the same thing.”
Ending NIU’s 27-year MAC title drought was the Huskies’ No. 1 goal this season. So with those dreams shattered, will the Huskies check out for the 2010 season?
“We have great leadership, and I don’t expect us to go in the tank at all,” NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish said. “I expect us to come out and get better and look forward to the bowl game.”
Where NIU plays its third straight bowl game is still uncertain heading into Sunday’s bowl announcements, airing on a 7 p.m. ESPN special. Friday’s loss likely will take away the Huskies’ national ranking, which made NIU a more attractive pick as an at-large selection.
It becomes more likely for NIU to land at one of the three MAC-affiliate bowls. The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (Dec. 26 in Detroit) has the first choice among the MAC affiliates, followed by the GoDaddy.com Bowl (Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala.) and the Humanitarian Bowl (Dec. 18 in Boise, Idaho).
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl director of operations John Perles told the Daily Chronicle earlier in the week that NIU and Miami were the bowl’s top two options. But after both schools combined to draw just 12,031 fans to Ford Field – also the site of the Pizza Bowl – on Friday, the bowl could consider more regional schools, especially Toledo, that could bring more fans for the day-after-Christmas game.
Humanitarian Bowl executive director Kevin McDonald said he was confident he could land one of the MAC division winners.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen in Detroit, but I know they need to sell tickets,” McDonald said. “That may kind of (determine) who they select.”
McDonald said the Humanitarian Bowl has “had its eye on Northern Illinois for the last month” and that hasn’t changed following Friday’s defeat.
“As much as we would’ve liked to have had Northern Illinois coming off a win in the championship game, I think our committee and our board would still be very excited to have Northern here in Boise for the Humanitarian Bowl,” McDonald said.
The Humanitarian Bowl was pursuing a matchup of No. 17 Nevada (12-1) and NIU earlier in the week when both teams were ranked. But Nevada accepted a bid to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl late Saturday, the Fight Hunger Bowl announced. McDonald said that Fresno State, 7-5 coming off a 25-23 win over Illinois on Friday, is likely to receive the Western Athletic Conference’s bid to the bowl.
Wherever NIU is headed, coach Jerry Kill expects his team to show the same character through adversity that helped the Huskies through his emergency surgery and subsequent week-long absence from the team in September.
“We’ll bounce back,” Kill said. “They’ll go back to work and learn. This hurts and it should hurt. That’s part of life. You don’t win all the time. You got to bounce back. This is when you find out who you are. There’s a lot of frontrunners in life but when adversity hits and things don’t go right, this is when you have to deal with things.”