There was 2013, 2014, and 2015. On the line each time was the MAC championship.
The mighty Huskies and Falcons set the standard for dominance in recent years, repeatedly meeting on Ford Field in December. In fact, the rivalry gained recognition as early as 2003 when College GameDay hosted No. 12 Northern Illinois at No. 23 Bowling Green—the last time the crew visited the MAC.
For the first time since 2012, the Falcons and Huskies will not headline the Mid-American Conference’s ultimate showdown.
Bowling Green (1-7, 0-4 MAC) will not be bowling for the first time since 2011. The 2015 conference champions have taken a tumble in head coach Mike Jinks’ first year on campus. The Falcons have yet to beat an FBS team this year, and their sole victory was a one-point edge over North Dakota of the FCS back in week two.
Northern Illinois (2-6, 2-2 MAC) hit rock bottom in week four after losing to FCS opponent Western Illinois 28-23. The Huskies have surged back from a nightmare non-conference outing, faring .500 in conference play. Rod Carey implemented a major overhaul in week five when deciding to start senior quarterback Anthony Maddie, a dual-threat that has shown flashes of Jordan Lynch thus far.
Maddie last took the field in a 44-7 rout of Buffalo, responsible for five touchdowns in the dominating victory. He has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in three of four starts, averaging 6.8 yards per carry this season. His passing game has been solid, but could still use improvements. In the accuracy department, Maddie completes just above 58 percent of attempts and has thrown eight touchdowns and five interceptions this season.
Similarly, Bowling Green is benefitting from a quarterback shakeup this season. After a historically terrible 77-3 loss versus Memphis, Jinks benched 2014 starter James Knapke in favor of the younger freshman, James Morgan. Morgan impressed through the air in his past two performances, throwing for 724 yards and eight touchdowns. He nearly led the Falcons to a major upset in the Glass Bowl—18 seconds away from defeating crosstown rival Toledo.
Morgan has already established his favorite target in sophomore receiver Scott Miller. The talented wideout has emerged with Morgan under center, averaging 133 receiving yards in his last four games. Miller has found the end zone six times in three games, contributing to Bowling Green’s increased scoring effort. As a recognition for his breakout, Miller was added to the Fred Biletnikoff Award watch list, and currently ranks seventh in the nation in receiving touchdowns and 12th in receptions.
In what will be the compelling matchup of this game, Miller (or senior wide receiver Ronnie Moore) will line up in opposition to Northern Illinois cornerback Shawun Lurry. Lurry, currently a junior, was showered with First Team All-American honors last season after leading the nation with nine interceptions.
The ball-hawk did not record his first pick this season until the triple overtime loss to Central Michigan. Despite not holding the football as often as he did in 2015, Lurry remains a dangerous threat as a shutdown corner. He has recorded 29 tackles this season and leads a unit that has forced eight interceptions on the season.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Huskies own a quality receiving threat in senior Kenny Golladay. He can be accredited for the Huskies’ victories this season, tallying 280 receiving yards and three touchdowns in wins over Ball State and Buffalo. Tuesday night could be a notable one for the senior, who faces one of the nation’s worst pass defenses.
Bowling Green’s defensive unit, which gives up the most points per game in the FBS with 45.1, is responsible for an FBS-worst 28 passing touchdowns. The defense has slightly improved since the two notable outliers, a 77-10 loss to Ohio State and 77-3 loss to Memphis, have moved farther into the past.
The rush defense ranks below average as well, giving up 19 touchdowns and 219 yards per game. Maddie’s read option attack, featuring senior running back Joel Bouagnon, is a powerful threat on the ground and will likely test the Bowling Green defense often.
The Huskies run the ball 54 percent of the time and can switch it up on offense quite often. Senior wide receiver Aregeros Turner is working himself into the mix, both as a wide receiver and running threat. Turner thrives off of end-arounds and plays a solid role in the passing game too, expanding the versatility of the Northern Illinois offense.
At 8 p.m. eastern time, this matchup on ESPNU will be one of two games that kicks off midweek MACtion in 2016. For the first time since 2011, a conference title is not at stake in the Bowling Green-Northern Illinois game. But instead, two teams are working to improve upon losing records.
For Bowling Green, it’s about getting James Morgan his first win as a starter. Jinks needs a reason to coerce recruits into rebuilding the program, and a conference win over the recent dynasty would be a good start.
For Northern Illinois, bowl hopes are still alive. It may come down to the Toledo game, but the Huskies must focus on improving week-to-week, and playing a struggling Bowling Green team in DeKalb is a favorable matchup.