DeKALB – It wasn’t hard to tell what Saturday’s 30-23 victory over Kansas meant to Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren.
The over-sized dog bone Doeren was carrying around on the field after the final snap was a fair indicator of how big this game was for NIU.
“Winning a [game against a Bowl Championship Series opponent] was what that was all about for me,” Doeren said in the postgame news conference. “I felt like we had our opportunities against Kansas last year, against Iowa in the opener and we didn’t find a way to win. That’s what we’ve done is find a way to win and I’ve wanted that bad.”
For a second-year head coach who already has a MAC championship and a bowl victory to his name, Saturday’s win may have been Doeren’s best yet.
It was his first victory over a BCS opponent after going 0-for-3 in his previous attempts.
Mock the opponent if you want. Kansas will likely wind up with another losing record and may go winless in the Big 12, but the Jayhawks are still a major-conference opponent. They have more resources at their disposal and more money to spend.
The win was part of a big day for the Mid-American Conference, which also saw Central Michigan – NIU’s opponent next week – beat Iowa, 32-31. The Chippewas certainly won’t be apologizing for beating Iowa in a down year.
“I know we’ll be excited to play them,” Doeren said. “They just had a great win over Iowa. I’m happy for the MAC that we beat a Big Ten and a Big 12 team [Saturday]. That’s going to be a great football game.”
The victory extended NIU’s Huskie Stadium winning streak to 17 games as NIU defeated the first BCS team to visit DeKalb in nine years. The home winning streak and Saturday’s result are major reasons why bigger programs don’t like scheduling home-and-home – or even two-for-one – series’ against NIU.
Those are also factors that should make NIU the favorites to get back to the MAC Championship Game out of the West Division.
Last year, NIU finished its nonconference slate at 2-2 with solid victories against Army and Cal Poly sandwiched around losses to Wisconsin and Kansas. This year the Huskies are 3-1, riding a three-game winning streak into conference play.
Of course, last year’s team went on to win the program’s first MAC Championship in 28 years. But again Doeren said this team compares favorably to the 2011 version.
“I told our team I think we were a better team after Week 1 at that point in the season than we were the year before after Week 1,” Doeren said. “I feel like there’s a lot of things we are better at than we were a year ago at this point in time. There’s still so much to improve on.”
On that list is turning around the turnover margin. NIU sits at minus-4 after Lynch was intercepted in the fourth quarter and the Huskies defense failed to force a turnover for the third time in four games.
Yet after a 3-1 start that was a couple plays from being perfect, Doeren can throw himself a bone.
“I’m just proud of the way we finish games around here,” Doeren said. “A lot of fun, I know our guys are excited. We’re looking forward to starting back up into the MAC next week, but we’ll worry about that [Sunday].”