Toledo’s visit to Northern Illinois on Nov. 14 is arguably the biggest game of the regular season in the Mid-American Conference West Division.
The winner of the contest should be the team that heads to Detroit for the MAC Championship Game.
Players, coaches and fans will have to wait just more than two weeks for that big game at Huskie Stadium.
On Saturday, NIU hosts Massachusetts, a team in its first year in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which enters the contest 0-8, 0-4 in league play.
Obviously, Huskies coach Dave Doeren and the rest of his team can’t afford to look ahead to the big game against their biggest rival. With a win Saturday and a win over the Rockets, NIU would claim the MAC West title.
However, Doeren’s Huskies have to beat UMass first.
“Our goal will be to win this week, and then to be sitting here controlling our own destiny the following week,” Doeren said. “We’re looking forward to hopefully finding a way to win this game and having some time off.”
A bye week isn’t something NIU has had the luxury of so far this year. The time off Doeren mentioned will come after UMass, when the team gets a 10-day break before its game against Toledo. The Huskies get eight days off between the game with the Rockets and the contest at Eastern Michigan the day after Thanksgiving.
NIU has had some players banged up. Receiver Perez Ashford hasn’t played since suffering a sprained ankle against Central Michigan on Sept. 29. Safety Dechane Durante suffered the same injury against Ball State a week later and hasn’t seen the field in the past three weeks. Cornerback Rashaan Melvin and running back Leighton Settle didn’t play in Saturday’s 48-34 win at Western Michigan, although Settle dressed for the contest.
“This will be our 10th game without a bye, and we need a little time to rest and recover, like anybody this time of year,” Doeren said. “So I know our players are more looking to the few days off they’re going to get. ... If we can control our own destiny and then get healthy here for the final two games, it will be a fun stretch.”
MAC East wide open: While the MAC West basically comes down to one game, the other side of the conference is jumbled. Four teams — Kent State, Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio) and Ohio sit within one game of first place. The Golden Flashes are the only unbeaten squad.
Ohio, a heavy favorite to win the East Division before the season, was ranked No. 23 in both polls heading into Saturday’s 23-20 loss at Miami. However, the Bobcats came up short when quarterback Tyler Tettleton took a sack deep in RedHawks territory in the final seconds, ending the game and eliminating any shot at a game-tying field goal.
“We did have a shot at the end to either win it or tie it up, and we did not handle that well at the end and it ended up being a situation where we did not give ourself a chance to win the game,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “Obviously, that was tough.
“... Miami played well. We didn’t play all that well. That’s the story of that one.”
Flashes get historic win: Heading into Saturday’s game at Rutgers, Kent State hadn’t defeated a Top 25 team – ever. The Golden Flashes finally got that historic victory, defeating the Scarlet Knights, who came into the game ranked No. 18 in The Associated Press’ poll and 15th in the USA Today Coaches Poll, 35-23, on the road.
“It was a great win for our program,” Kent State coach Darrell Hazell said. “I thought we did a nice job of making plays early in the football game to keep Rutgers balanced on all phases. ... that was a good football team we played.”
The Golden Flashes, who stand at 7-1, are virtually guaranteed a bowl spot. The school has only one major bowl appearance in school history, the 1972 Tangerine Bowl.