When it came time for recruiting in January last year, first-year Northern Illinois football coach Dave Doeren didn’t have much experience to go on when it came to the Huskies.
He had been on the job for less than a month, and a lot of that time was spent preparing Wisconsin’s defense for the Rose Bowl. But when it came time to speak to recruits about NIU, Doeren had a couple of things going for him. The Huskies had just come off a 40-17 pasting of Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl, and they did crack the Top 25 rankings near the end of the regular season.
“It helped us last year,” Doeren said. “I obviously used that win in my pitch on the road, and obviously any time you can walk into January recruiting with a win on national TV, that’s a nice thing to have in your pocket.”
Clearly, Doeren will have much more to work with this month when he closes out his second recruiting class – a Mid-American Conference championship will be at the top of the list. He’d like two more things, though. First is a win against Arkansas State in Sunday’s GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
But how about this: the first season-ending appearance in the Top 25 in school history.
NIU has been close, finishing in the “also receiving votes” category (26th in 2010) but never has broken the ceiling and finished inside the Top 25.
“Oh man, that would be awesome,” senior quarterback Chandler Harnish said. “I don’t think we could script it any better than that. We’ve had a pretty good career as a senior class, pretty illustrious, but man, to go out Top 25 and with another bowl victory is just something that is a cherry on top. That’s what we want and I think that’s what we expect.”
Taking a look at where NIU finished the season in the rankings, it’s possible the Huskies could finish as one of the Top 25 teams in the country in either poll.
NIU finished with seven points in the final Associated Press Top 25 rankings in the regular season, good for 31st place. Arkansas State was three spots ahead. Of the five teams ahead of the Huskies, two have lost. Two more that were ranked between 20 and 25 also lost their bowl games. leaving open the possibility for the Huskies to sneak in with an impressive win.
It’s a little easier in the coaches poll.
The Huskies finished the season 27th in those rankings. Of the six teams ahead of NIU, two lost their bowl games. That doesn’t mean a win for the Huskies automatically clinches a spot in the top 25 in the coaches poll, but the path has much less clutter.
If NIU can do it, an already historic season becomes even more memorable.
“Obviously I feel like we should be (ranked),” Doeren said. “There’s been enough said about the ranking system already. I know we’re getting a lot of votes right now, [if we] get the recognition we deserve that would be great.”
• John Sahly is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JSahly.