CHICAGO – Northern Illinois fans have watched the same movie before.
Saturday's 18-17 loss against Iowa played out just like so many of their other big non-conference games over the past five seasons. The Huskies enter as underdogs against a team from a power conference, put themselves in position to win, but can't quite close the deal.
Save for a 2009 victory over Purdue and a 2010 win against Minnesota, NIU's track record against BCS conference teams isn't quite what you'd expect from a team that has appeared in four consecutive bowl games and comes off a Mid-American Conference championship.
The Huskies are 35-20 since the beginning of the 2008 season, but own a mere 2-9 mark against teams from BCS conferences. And too many of those losses have been games NIU had a chance to win.
There was the last-second loss to Kansas on the road in 2011, the close defeat to Illinois in Champaign in 2010 and the heart-breaker at Minnesota in 2008. All of them were "could've, would've, should've" games that didn't go in the Huskies' favor for one reason or another.
"We came out against Iowa and I thought we held our own," NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch said. "A few plays didn't fall in our hands some times."
Give NIU credit for consistently putting together a tough non-conference schedule. Ever since Jerry Kill took over the program in 2008, the Huskies have played two BCS teams each year in their non-conference schedule. That's certainly more than most teams can say.
And the trend doesn't stop after 2012. Next season the Huskies will play road games against Iowa and Purdue.
Just like the philosophy held by former Fresno State coach Pat Hill, the Huskies have adopted an "anyone, anywhere, anytime" mentality.
"I wish we could play [at Soldier Field] every year and I don't care who it's against," NIU coach Dave Doeren said. "I wish we could play anybody from any conference here every year."
But it simply isn't enough for NIU to just be competitive against these types of teams. If NIU has hopes of ascending to the level of non-traditional powerhouse schools like TCU or Boise State, it has to, in coaches' speak, start "finishing games."
On Saturday, that didn't happen.
NIU's offense stalled in the second half and failed to move the ball consistently when forced into obvious passing situations. The defense, which more than held its own, finally yielded a touchdown with just more than two minutes remaining.
It was a disappointing finish to an otherwise impressive performance.
"I think we're just as good as those guys," freshman offensive lineman Aidan Conlon said. "We can hang with a lot of the teams out there."
Now the Huskies just have to prove they can beat them. And they'll get yet another chance in Week 4 against Kansas.