For the Northern Illinois Huskies, Detroit has gotten to be a home away from home.
For even the fifth-year seniors, there are very few within the Northern Illinois program who can imagine any other end to a regular season than playing for a MAC title. Wide receiver Da'Ron Brown watched from the sidelines as a redshirt freshman during the Huskies' first of their five consecutive MAC Championship games, and now has a chance to play in one last title game in his college career.
"It's a great feeling. The program has been doing great, it just keeps doing great. It's just a blessing," Brown said. "We want to keep this success going in the program."
While it had the same end result, this year's MAC season was a bit different than the previous two for Northern Illinois. After cruising into the MAC title game undefeated the last two years, the 10-2 Huskies hit a couple of speed bumps this season. Although a 52-14 thumping at Arkansas was certainly a rude awakening, it was 34-17 home loss to Central Michigan on Oct. 11 that put the Huskies' hopes for a fifth straight MAC West title in jeopardy.
It all worked out fine in the end for Northern Illinois, with key wins against Toledo and at Western Michigan helping it claim the division crown once more, but head coach Rod Carey said facing a bit of adversity helped create a sense of urgency that propelled the Huskies.
"I challenged them and said, 'You can't wait, you know. You've gotta get it done,'" Carey said. "We talked frank with each other and we owned up. If a coach hadn't given them the best plan, I owned up to it. If they haven't given the best effort, we call them on it, and I think that that's probably what has happened since that sense of urgency."
Junior defensive back Paris Logan said Carey pushed the team to focus on the little things to get back on track to eventually win the division.
"We have a saying - 'The future is now' - when you talk about urgency," Logan said. "We paid attention to the details, extra film, and like coach said, every game is a must-win. No one likes to lose, so we paid attention to the details."
If Logan and the rest of the Huskies can take care of all the details Friday against Bowling Green, the reward could be a third MAC championship in four years.
NOTES: Carey said his team was "as healthy as we could be" at this late stage of the season...Carey said he expected a much different Bowling Green team from last year's, but acknowledged the difficulty in playing Dino Babers' Eastern Illinois team last season. The Huskies earned a 43-39 win against the FCS Panthers but only after climbing out of a 20-0 first-quarter deficit...Brown said quarterback Drew Hare has progressed as a leader throughout the season and said he had done "a great job" taking over for Jordan Lynch.