DeKALB – Once again, everything comes down to Northern Illinois and Toledo.
Last season, the Huskies clinched the West Division of the Mid-American Conference with a win over the Rockets at Huskie Stadium.
With a victory tonight at the Glass Bowl, NIU will win its fourth consecutive MAC West title. Should the Rockets win, they'll control their own destiny in the division, and will clinch a MAC Championship Game appearance with a win at Akron in their final regular-season game.
Toledo would win the division over Ball State and NIU due to the conference strength of schedule tiebreaker – the Rockets played, and beat, Bowling Green and Buffalo, the top teams in the MAC East, in their crossover games.
It's only fitting that the division comes down to these two programs.
"I think one of the neat things about this game is you look at the tradition of both schools," Rockets head coach Matt Campbell said. "I think way before myself or Coach (Rod) Carey, I think there's been tremendous coaches that have laid the foundation to both programs. I think the administration and universities of both programs have taken pride in their football programs."
The last time these two met at the Glass Bowl, NIU won in a shootout, 63-60. Expecting another 123 combined points is a lot to ask for, but nobody should be shocked if tonight's contest is another high-scoring affair.
No. 16 NIU leads the MAC with an average of 44.6 points per game, while the Rockets average 35 points per contest, the third-best total in the conference.
Senior quarterback Terrance Owens is having a solid season – he's completed 61.7 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Tailback David Fluellen has already passed the 1,000-yard mark and is averaging 7.0 yards per carry. Wideout Bernard Reedy has 736 yards and six touchdown catches.
Fluellen hasn't played the last two weeks due to a leg injury, but backups Kareem Hunt and Damion Jones-Moore have stepped in and done just fine. Running behind a strong offensive line, Hunt has 99 carries for an average of 6.8 yards, while Jones-Moore has run 34 times for an average of 7.4 yards.
"Their offense probably doesn't get as much recognition as Ball State's because Ball State has the three wide receivers and the quarterback that are getting recognition," Carey said. "I'm telling you, Toledo is every bit as good."
Since NIU's rise to prominence in the early 2000s, Huskie fans have considered Toledo as their main rival.
NIU and Ball State played for the Bronze Stalk last week – the only trophy game for NIU, but tight end Luke Eakes said the Rockets are his team's top rivalry.
"We've had problems with them in the past and they always come out to play well," he said. "They're always fired up to play us and we're fired up to play them. So, I consider them our biggest rival."