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A Look Back at the Northern Illinois Huskies’ Bowl History

Reliving the Huskies’ post season appearances throughout the years

NCAA Football: MAC Championship-Kent State vs Northern Illinois Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Northern Illinois Huskies will play in the Cure Bowl on Friday evening, where they’ll face off against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (10-2, 6-2 Sun Belt). The game kicks off at 6 p.m. (5 p.m. CST) and will be broadcast on ESPN2. But, before it does, here’s a look back at NIU’s bowl history.

This will be the Huskies’ 19th bowl game ever and their 14th at the FBS level. Friday’s game will be the first time the Huskies have gone bowling since 2018, and they’ll be looking for their first bowl win in nearly a decade— having last won a bowl game during the 2011-12 season. It will also be head coach Thomas Hammock’s first bowl game with Huskies.

For most of their football history, the Huskies have struggled to make post season games. In their first 100 years of football (1899-1999,) NIU made just six bowl games.

But that all changed when Joe Novak came to DeKalb. Novak, who coached the Huskies from 1996-2007, completely turned around the program. The Huskies went from a winless squad in 1997 to being ranked as high as #12 in the nation by the 2003 season. And, since 2004, the Huskies have appeared in 12 (soon to be 13) bowl games and even set the MAC record by making eight straight bowl games from 2008-2015.

NIU Bowl Facts

Bowl Appearances: 13 (t-82nd in the NCAA)
The Huskies are currently tied with Bowling Green and Ohio for the second most bowl appearances by a MAC school. However, with the Falcons and Bobcats missing out on the post season this year, NIU will claim sole possession of second place when they play their 14th bowl game on Friday night. Toledo has the most in the MAC with 18, soon to be 19.

Most Common Bowl Game: Poinsettia Bowl

NIU has played in the Poinsettia Bowl three times (2006, 2013, 2015). The Huskies have yet to win the game, sitting at 0-3 when in San Diego. The Boca Raton Bowl is NIU’s second most common bowl game, with the Huskies making two appearances.

Conference Breakdown (FBS Bowl Games):

Mountain West - 3 games (Boise State, TCU, Utah State)
Sun Belt - 3 games (Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Troy)
ACC - 2 games (Duke, Florida State)
C-USA - 2 games (Marshall, UAB)
WAC - 2 games (Fresno State, Louisiana Tech)
Big East - 1 game (USF Bulls)

Biggest Bowl Win: 40-17 (2010 vs Fresno State)
Biggest Bowl Loss: 55-7 (2015 vs Boise State)

The Early Bowl Games (Division II)

NIU’s first ever bowl game came in 1946 when they took on the Evansville 49ers (now Purple Aces) in the Turkey Bowl. The Huskies lost the game 19-7. The very next season the two schools would meet up in another bowl game, this time the Hoosier Bowl, but the result would be similar - a 20-0 Evansville win.

It would be 15 years before the Huskies reached another bowl game. In 1962, they ended the drought and played in the Mineral Water Bowl against Adams State, losing the game 23-20.

NIU wouldn’t have to wait long to return to the Mineral Water Bowl. In 1963, quarterback George Bork became the first collegiate quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards in season and led the Huskies to a perfect 10-0 record, which included their first bowl win, a 21-14 victory over Southwest Missouri State (now just Missouri State). After the bowl win, the AP voted NIU as the College Division National Champions, their only football title in school history.

Finally, in 1965 the Huskies would play in their third Mineral Water Bowl, this time against North Dakota. Once again the Huskies found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard, losing 37-20.

As a “College Division” member, now Division II, the Huskies went 1-4 in bowl games.

First FBS Bowl Game

1983 - California Bowl (Fresno, CA) vs Cal State-Fullerton

After joining the upper division of college football in 1968, it took Northern 15 years to reach their first bowl game as an FBS team. After a 9-2 regular season record in 1983 (only losing to Wisconsin and CMU), the Huskies faced off against Cal State-Fullerton in the California Bowl. NIU won the game 20-13 and was able to claim their first bowl win since their National Championship season, exactly 20 years earlier.

[FBS Bowl Record: 1-0]

The Huskies would then suffer another long bowl drought, but not without some controversy.

In 2002 NIU finished 8-4 (and beat #20 BGSU) but were excluded from post season play. Then, in 2003, it was even worse. Despite beating two top-25 teams (#15 Maryland and #19 Alabama), being ranked in the polls for eight weeks (as high as #12), and finishing the season at 10-2 the Huskies were somehow snubbed from a bowl game...but four 6-6 teams — Georgia Tech, Kansas, Northwestern, and UCLA — made bowl games.

Recent Bowl Games

2004 - Silicon Valley Bowl (San Jose, CA) vs Troy State Trojans

The 21-year bowl drought finally ended in 2004 when the Huskies went 8-3 in the regular season and were chosen to play in the Silicon Valley Bowl where they would take on the Troy State Trojans. Troy (who has since dropped the “State” from their name) was easily defeated by the Huskies. NIU won the game 34-21 and finished the 2004 season with just three losses — #22 Maryland, Iowa State, and Toledo.

[FBS Bowl Record: 2-0]

2006 - Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego, CA) vs #25 TCU Horned Frogs

In 2006, the Huskies went 7-5 but were able to run past most of their MAC opponents, finishing with a 5-3 conference record. NIU was then chosen to square off against the 25-ranked TCU Horned Frogs in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Star halfback Garrett Wolfe was held to just 28 yards rushing and the Huskies were destroyed. TCU out-gained NIU 456-60 and easily won 37-7, with NIU’s lone score coming on a blocked punt in the fourth quarter.

[FBS Bowl Record: 2-1]

After a less than stellar year in 2007, Joe Novak’s final season, the Huskies hired Jerry Kill. Kill wouldn’t miss a beat and started the streak of eight straight bowl games in his first year at the helm. Of course, it also helped that the Huskies had just signed quarterback Chandler Harnish, who would excel in his tenure at NIU.

2008 - Independence Bowl (Shreveport, LA) vs Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Harnish and the Huskies finished the 2008 regular season with a 6-6 record, but benefited from the increased number of bowl games and found themselves playing in the Independence Bowl against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were out-gained 339-236 but used three NIU turnovers and a 99-yard kick return touchdown in order to claim a 17-10 win over the Huskies.

[FBS Bowl Record: 2-2]

2009 - International Bowl (Toronto, Canada) vs USF Bulls

In 2009, the Huskies started 7-3 before losing their final two games and ending up playing in the International Bowl against the USF Bulls.

After a close first half that ended in a 3-3 tie, the Bulls were able to run away with the game. USF scored 24 unanswered over the final 30 minutes and out-gaining NIU 406-238 en route to a 27-3 victory.

[FBS Bowl Record: 2-3]

2010 - Humanitarian Bowl (Boise, ID) vs Fresno State Bulldogs

HUMANITARIANBOWL Joe Jaszewski/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

After losing three straight bowls, NIU would finally get back in the win column in 2010. NIU had a slow start to the season but the Huskies would ramble off nine straight wins, out-score teams 416-150 in that span, and find themselves ranked #25 as they headed into the MAC Championship Game against Miami.

The 10-2 Huskies were up 21-20 late in the game and were a single play away from an 11-2 season...but the RedHawks would complete a miracle pass on 4th-and-20 and then score the game winning touchdown with just 33 seconds to go.

After the loss, the Huskies headed to the Humanitarian Bowl to play against the Fresno State Bulldogs. NIU clearly bottled up all their frustration from the previous game and took it all out on the Bulldogs. The Huskies racked up 503 total yards and blew out Fresno State 40-17 — their biggest bowl win to date — and finished the season 11-3, the most wins in school history at the time.

[FBS Bowl Record: 3-3]

2011 - GoDaddy.Com Bowl (Mobile, AL) vs Arkansas State Red Wolves

Jerry Kill left the Huskies for Minnesota after the 2010 season, so the Huskies brought in Dave Doeren as the new head coach in 2011. His first season at NIU was Harnish’s last, but the Huskies were once again a formidable opponent.

Northern only lost one MAC game all season, finishing the year with a 9-3 record. Then, in the MAC Championship Game, NIU erased a 20-point Ohio lead, scoring 23 unanswered and winning 23-20 on a walk-off field goal.

Riding an eight-game win streak into their bowl game, NIU would take on the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the Bowl. The Huskies went down 13-0 early on but Harnish, and a young backup QB named Jordan Lynch, would lead massive comeback. NIU scored 31 straight points and ended up beating the Red Wolves 38-20. It’s currently the last bowl game the Huskies have won.

[FBS Bowl Record: 4-3]

2012 - Orange Bowl (Miami, FL) vs #12 Florida State Seminoles

Discover Orange Bowl - Northern Illinois v Florida State

With Harnish gone, the Huskies turned to Jordan Lynch to lead the team...and boy did he ever. NIU lost their season opener to Iowa, 18-17, but they would quickly bounce back, winning the remainder of their games and finishing the year 11-1 and ranked 21st in the country. They then played #17 Kent State for the MAC title and escaped with a 44-37 win in double overtime.

The victory propelled NIU up to #15 in the nation and allowed them to become the first MAC school to ever play in a BCS/NY6 bowl game. They were selected to play in the Orange Bowl against the 12-ranked Florida State Seminoles.

Sadly, Dave Doeren would leave NIU for NC State before the game so the Huskies handed the reigns over to their offensive line coach, Rod Carey, for the bowl game.

Lynch and the Huskies kept the game close for the first 45 minutes, entering the fourth quarter trailing just 17-10. The Huskies were driving into FSU territory with a chance to tie it, when a rather questionable fumble call halted the drive and momentum swung to the Seminoles, who scored the final 14 points and won 31-10.

[FBS Bowl Record: 4-4]

2013 - Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego, CA) vs Utah State Aggies

In Rod Carey’s first full seasons as coach, the Huskies continued right where they had left off and finished the regular season undefeated.

During the 2013 season, NIU averaged 519.8 yards per game, out-scored opponents 555-351, had wins over Iowa and Purdue, and Lynch finished the year third in the Heisman voting (the highest ever for a MAC player).

Lynch, now a senior, had one of the best seasons a quarterback has ever had in college football. He passed for 2,892 yards, rushed for 1,920 yards, and had 47 total touchdowns (24 passing, 23 rushing).

At 12-0, and ranked #14, the Huskies headed into the MAC title game against Bowling Green with a second-straight BCS bowl dead in their sights. However, the Huskies couldn’t get things going and BG had amassed a 31-13 lead by halftime. It didn’t get any better in the second half and the game ended 47-27. The loss dropped the Huskies down to #23 and pushed them out of a BCS game and into the Poinsettia Bowl against the Utah State Aggies.

This is when Carey first showed his disregard for preparing for bowl games and the Huskies came out flat and unmotivated. The Aggies held NIU to just 315 yards, 200 yards under their season average, and were able to steal a 21-14 win from the Huskies.

[FBS Bowl Record: 4-5]

2014 - Boca Raton Bowl (Boca Raton, FL) vs Marshall Thundering Herd

Even without Lynch in 2014 the Huskies had a solid core. With Drew Hare now at quarterback, NIU started the season 3-0, and even beat Northwestern on the road, before getting blown out by the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Huskies had no issues in MAC play, however, winning seven of their eight games (only losing to CMU again) and going back to the MACCG. In a rematch with the Falcons, the Huskies got their revenge and blew out the Bowling Green, 51-17, in what is still the most lopsided MAC title game ever.

From there, the 11-2 Huskies were chosen to play in the Boca Raton Bowl against former MAC foe Marshall. The Thundering Herd rolled NIU by the score of 52-23 and easily handed the Huskies their third straight bowl loss.

[FBS Bowl Record: 4-6]

2015 - Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego, CA) vs Boise State Broncos

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 23 Poinsettia Bowl - Boise State v Northern Illinois Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NIU finished the year with an 8-4 record and they once again won the MAC West, finding themselves in the MAC title against the Bowling Green Falcons for the third straight year. BG was able to win the rubber match, 34-14, which sent the 8-5 Huskies to the Poinsettia Bowl against the 8-4 Boise State Broncos.

Boise State demolished Rod Carey’s Huskies. The Broncos were up 21-0 after the first quarter, up 31-7 at the half, and won the game by 48 points, with the final score reading 55-7. NIU only gained 33 total yards during the game — 38 passing and -5 rushing — and were 1-12 on third downs. Their only score came from a 96-yard kickoff return from Aregeros Turner. It’s the worst post season loss in Huskie history and will be a tough one to top.

[FBS Bowl Record: 4-7]

After the 2015 season the Huskies streak of eight consecutive bowl games would end, when they finished the 2016 season at 5-7.

2017 - Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit, MI) vs Duke Blue Devils

After a single down year the Huskies were right back in the post-season in 2017. NIU relied on their defense to propel them to an 8-4 regular season record, which included a big boneyard win at Nebraska and a 63-17 blowout win over Ball State.

They would take on the Duke Blue Devils in the Quick Lane Bowl and, once again, Rod Carey had the team ill-prepared and underwhelmed. The Huskies quickly went down 14-0 in the first quarter and had one of the worst play calls of all time, when Carey decided to try a fake punt from their own 11-yard line.

However, NIU would quickly find a way to tie things up as the offense hit on a pair of big plays — a 25-yard TD run by Tre Harbison and a 67-yard TD pass from Marcus Childers to Jauan Wesley — scoring twice in a two minutes period early in the second quarter.

But Duke would go on to score 22 unanswered points, all while shutting down the Huskie offense over the final 30 minutes, and easily win the game 36-14.

[FBS Bowl Record: 4-8]

2018 - Boca Raton Bowl (Boca Raton, FL) vs UAB Blazers

The last bowl game NIU appeared in was also Rod Carey’s final game at NIU.

The Huskies started the 2018 conference schedule strong, winning their first six MAC games and securing a spot in the MAC Championship Game early on despite losing their last two regular season games and finishing the year at 7-5.

In the title game against a heavily favored Buffalo team, the Huskies would find themselves down 19 points late. However, they were able to score 20 points in just over fifteen minutes, including the game winning TD with just 69 seconds remaining, and claimed a 30-29 win over the Bulls.

The title win got them back to the Boca Raton Bowl where they took on the 10-2 UAB Blazers. The Huskies were able to keep it close for a little while but the Blazers were able to torch the NIU secondary. UAB scored a trio of long touchdowns, with passes going for 46, 66, and 70 yards. Northern would end up being out-gained 476-287 and lose the game 37-13.

[FBS Bowl Record: 4-9]

2021 - Cure Bowl (Orlando, FL) vs Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

After being hired in 2019 Coach Thomas Hammock re-hauled the entire program and now has the Huskies back atop the MAC and in another bowl game. He will look to end the streak of six straight bowl losses and get NIU their first 10 win season since 2014.

Be sure to tune into ESPN2 Friday night at 6 p.m. (5 p.m. CST) to watch the Huskies take on the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in the Cure Bowl.