In 2013, Jordan Lynch was on your Twitter feed. NIU was the dark empire that captivated thousands. A second-straight MAC Championship victory here would help the Huskies catapult their way back into retaining the BCS-busting glory, which they only need to move up 2 spots in the BCS standings.
They've been the favorites to win this game before the preseason, especially if you have a legitimate Heisman-hopeful entering his senior season. Against Central Michigan, Lynch ran for 316 yards to have the most rushing yards by a QB in a single game. He broke his own record the next month. The last time NIU lost at this point was against the Florida State Seminoles that was led by E.J. Manuel at quarterback. Rod Carey was just an interim head coach then, but he knew this team, he knew how to get to Detroit. The Huskies football program is established, the era of social media has helped get them reach national relevancy quicker than anticipated.
All season long, NIU was the best team in the MAC. It wasn't a secret. It was written in stone tablet just 12 months before the 2013 MAC Championship that the Huskies would be going after a repeat, and anything less than that would be a disappointment.
The biggest stars shine the brightest when you're playing on national television. Matt Johnson and not Jordan Lynch was named the MVP of the biggest football game of the MAC football season that season with five touchdowns and over 400 yards of total offense. In the most crucial moments, the Huskies couldn't stop the Falcons and if there's anything that Dave Clawson helped teach us that year: it's that defense wins championships.
Hindsight is 20/20, which makes sense that we all could've seen this moment coming.
Jordan Lynch finally found himself practicing with the Chicago Bears. Clawson moved on to be the new head coach down at Wake Forest. The Huskies didn't really find out who would be the guy under center until a few games into the following season, eventually sticking with Drew Hare. Like Matt Johnson did last year, Hare had to win his starting role in the early goings of the season.
Dino Babers came in from Eastern Illinois after winning the Ohio Valley Conference championship in both of his seasons as a coach for the Panthers to take the Falcons back to Detroit. After all, nobody expected a year of transition from the pool of talent that the Falcons had returning. Johnson was obviously going to be their guy until he had to get hip surgery. The first three quarters of the game against Western Kentucky was the only action Johnson was able to see that season.
I didn't really know much about James Knapke. If there was one thing that I learned about the guy early in the season, it's that he could absolutely ball out in the fourth quarter.
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Just about everything about 2014 felt different. Drew Hare wasn't a national trend on the social mediasphere. The Falcons once had a monstrous defense but the mindset shifted towards being more #FalconFast and feeding the ball to the most talented freshman receiver in the conference Roger Lewis and SMU transfer receiver Gehrig Dieter (when healthy) proved to be reliable targets.
But Hare, well, he had it. Not the same kind of it that Lynch or Chandler Harnish had, but the it that the Huskies absolutely had to have that season. Hare had two games in 2014 where he had over 100 rushing yards, but only threw one interception during the regular season, which happened in their only loss in conference play against Central Michigan. He didn't lead the Huskies to another season where they were nationally ranked season, but that didn't need to happen again. What needed to happen was for them to go back to Detroit, reclaim MAC glory and earn their respect.
Sometimes it's best to think ahead. See, most teams around the MAC share a common goal: win the MAC Championship. It's roared from Muncie to Amherst to Athens to Buffalo to Mt. Pleasant. The Huskies' goal is to keep the MAC Championship title in DeKalb. That's their goal because that's just how they've grown used to doing things.
Matt Johnson was why we expected a re-match in the first place. The Falcons were the MAC's best in scoring defense under Clawson. The only team that had a worse scoring defense than BGSU in 2014 was Eastern Michigan and are already 0-3 against the MAC West.
The first start that Hare had was against UNLV where most NIU fans watched online through the Mountain West Network stream. But on the same national stage that Johnson had last year, he took over.
Jordan Lynch signed with the Edminton Eskimos 40 days later. The Demon Deacons went 3-9, 12th in the ACC in scoring defense. Hare, like Johnson, didn't receive All-MAC honors before championship game. Now he's expected to be an All-MAC performer at this season's end. Dino Babers was the one to announce that Johnson's season had to be cut short to injury after the WKU game and was the same one to announce that Johnson would be the starting quarterback for the Falcons against Tennessee.
Both NIU and BGSU had solid pick-ups along their respective recruiting trails. Babers was able to get a transfer safety from Notre Dame after getting Robbie Rhodes to transfer and sit out all of last season after he was removed from the Baylor Bears roster. Rod Carey might have gotten the best receiver from of the 2015 MAC signing classes this time. The media polls don't come out for another month, but it shouldn't be a surprise if these two teams are the majority favorites to win the West and East titles for sixth and third times in a row, respectively.
We individually circle certain games on our calendars that we're looking most forward to. Kent State fans have November 27 circled. RedHawks fans have October 10 highlighted. Toledo fans are really looking forward to winning their sixth straight Battle of I-75 on November 17, but Northern Illinois and Bowling Green should both be aiming to play each other on December 4 at Ford Field yet again.