DeKALB – As the new members of Northern Illinois’ football program discussed their reasons for choosing the Huskies on Wednesday, the chance to take NIU to national prominence became a recurring trend.
The Huskies built a solid foundation the past few seasons. Their progress culminated with a school-record 11 wins last fall, success athletics director Jeff Compher said he expects to continue despite a coaching change.
As Compher explained, accomplishments the Huskies’ football program once hoped for are now the expectation. He said taking a step back isn’t an option.
“We have a belief here that we could be the first team from the [Mid-American Conference] to compete in a BCS bowl game,” Compher said. “We talk about that. Because I’ll tell you, if you don’t dream it, it will never happen. Now it’s gone beyond dream (to) how we can execute that.”
During the recruiting process, Compher and coach Dave Doeren set that goal for the 22 recruits who committed. They told them they wanted NIU to become the next Boise State, the next TCU. It’s a bold standard to compare a mid-major program to.
It appears NIU’s 2011 recruiting class bought into that message.
“NIU is going places,” tight end Devonte’ Majors said. “I want to be a part of the family. Coach Doeren and [Compher] said that we’re trying to get over the hump into that Boise State and the TCU level. It’s a very motivational speech to tell the recruits.”
But was it just a speech?
The recruits don’t seem to think so. And Doeren was adamant Wednesday he’s committed to fulfilling Compher’s vision.
“I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t believe it,” Doeren said. “We’re here to win games. We’re here to play and do everything we can as competitors to make this the best football team we can. When you’re in the position you are – as far as BCS, non-BCS – (Boise State and TCU) are the teams you want to emulate right now.
“There’s no doubt this program wants to be, on Saturdays, listening and having people talk about us as the next giant killer, and ‘Look at what they’re doing.’ We want to be in those conversations.”
It’s not unprecedented for a MAC team to be in those conversations. NIU did it in 2003, finishing 10-2, climbing as high as No. 10 in the BCS standings, though the Huskies weren't invited to a bowl game that season. MAC West opponent Ball State was 12-0 in 2008 and climbed to No. 12 in the BCS.
But in terms of sustaining a national ranking, that’s unchartered territory for everyone in the MAC. Compher said he believes his team could only be five years away, but he didn’t set a date for when he expects it to happen.
“Because it’s never been done, it’s hard to put a time limit on it,” Compher said. “I can tell you that what Boise did took several years to do. What TCU did took several years to do. They had consistency in their approach, and they had consistency in their staff. They had a very giving and loyal fan base that contributed to the program and the success of it.
“A lot of things came together for those programs, and I believe they can happen here.”