DeKALB – It has been a long time coming.
This afternoon, Huskie Stadium will play host to a team from a BCS conference for the first time since 2003, when Northern Illinois (2-1) will take on Kansas (1-2), with a 2:30 kickoff.
Last season, the Jayhawks beat the Huskies in an offensive shootout in Lawrence.
“We are real excited. We take a lot of pride saying we are just as good as these teams, the BCS teams, automatic-bid teams,” NIU sophomore offensive tackle Ryan Brown said. “Last year was a really tough game against Kansas, and we just can’t wait to get back out there and prove that we should have won that game last year.”
Nine seasons ago, Maryland and Iowa State visited DeKalb, with NIU winning both games on its way to a 10-2 season. Other BCS teams that have played at NIU since 1990 include Kansas State (1990,1997), Oklahoma State (1994), Vanderbilt (1997) and Wake Forest (2002).
NIU athletic director Jeff Compher and coach Dave Doeren have a certain philosophy they like when it comes to scheduling – two road guarantee games against teams from BCS conferences, another against a fellow non-AQ team, and one against a Football Championship Subdivision program.
Compher said the Huskies need the two guarantee games for revenue purposes, adding that he wants games that NIU is going to be competitive. Compher also likes to get a home-and-home series with another non-AQ team because it gives the Huskies a better chance for a higher win total.
NIU went to Army last week, winning 41-40. It was a return game from last season, when the Black Knights came to DeKalb. NIU will play on the road against Idaho next season, with the Vandals coming to Huskie Stadium in 2014. The Huskies will host Wyoming in 2014 and head to Laramie in 2015.
Compher said his main priority when it comes to playing a BCS team is to try to get a home-and-home series. But that’s easier said than done. BCS teams usually don’t have a ton to gain when playing on the road against non-AQ schools. Compher also mentioned dealing with open dates, who NIU plays in the given year and competitive balance as other scheduling factors.
Compher added he’s open to doing a two-for-one deal with a BCS school, but said getting the third game can be tough.
NIU also has played three games at Soldier Field in recent years, taking on Iowa this season. NIU received about $850,000 in revenue from the 2011 Soldier Field game against Wisconsin.
There are a number of reasons Soldier Field appeals to NIU, including revenue and recruiting. It also is much easier to get a Big Ten team to play at Soldier Field as opposed to Huskie Stadium. The Huskies never have hosted a Big Ten team in DeKalb.
“I think it’s pretty difficult to do that,” Compher said. “We’re not going to stop trying to do that, but I think that’s one of the reasons we went to Soldier Field, so that we could play in what we considered to be our home field in Chicago and have a game there.”
Compher has known Kansas associate athletic director Larry Keating for a long time and said the circumstances fit for today’s game was scheduled a while back. The Huskies hosted Iowa at Soldier Field in Week 1, so Compher knew the program would gain a good amount of revenue, making it easier for the Huskies to do a home-and-home series with Kansas.
Doeren expects a rowdy atmosphere today when the Huskies host a big-name opponent for the first time in nine years.
“If we don’t have a sellout, I’d be disappointed,” he said. “I just think when you have a BCS team coming into a place that has the coaching staff that both of us have, the quality of players on both rosters, I think this is a product that people want to see. It’s a game they should want to see.”
NIU'S FIVE KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Win the turnover battle
One thing Northern Illinois hasn't done during its 2-1 start is force turnovers. The Huskies have a minus-3 turnover margin, and didn't get a takeaway against Iowa or Army. Meanwhile, Kansas has a margin of plus-5, and has forced 12 turnovers, a number that ranks first in the country.
After a three-turnover performance last week against Army, the Huskies need to take care of the ball and get some takeaways themselves.
2. Use the atmosphere as an advantage
NIU rides a 16-game home winning streak into today's contest. At the same time, the Jayhawks have lost 13 straight on the road. NIU head coach Dave Doeren has mentioned how much of an advantage the Huskie Stadium crowd can be, and today could very well see Huskie Stadium's largest crowd of the year.
3. Stop the run
NIU gave up 486 yards last week, but that can happen against a triple-option team. But is that an anomaly, or can teams consistently run on this defense like Iowa did in Week 1?
Kansas will present a challenge, with running backs Tony Piersen (48 carries, 279 yards) and Taylor Cox (42 carries, 247 yards). The Jayhawks will also get junior James Sims back. He's returning from a three-game suspension and Sims ran for 110 yards in the teams' meeting last season.
4. Let Jordan Lynch be multidimensional
Last week, Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch had the best game of his career, throwing for 342 yards and four touchdowns, and rushing for 125 yards and a touchdown. Defenses face the tough choice of keying on the run or opening up the passing game. What will Kansas do?
5. Get the running backs into the mix
Lynch had a fine day against Army, but NIU's running backs combined for just 33 yards on the ground. Having running backs Leighton Settle and Akeem Daniels get key yards will only make it easier for the offense.