Toledo and Northern Illinois. Some say rivalry, others say nonsense. I say it is up for debate. Historically the Rockets have dominated the Huskies in football. Toledo has long been a force in the MAC, and until recently NIU was a laughable program. Go back through the series, and Toledo has dominated. The Rockets are 29-11 against the Huskies all-time. Throughout the 60s, 70s, 90s and the first decade of the 2000s Toledo went 2-0, 7-2, 6-0, and 8-2 respectively.
Toledo has produced Nick Saban, undefeated seasons, a tough home environment in the Glass Bowl, and LOTS of MAC championships. On the other side of the coin, Lee Corso , Charlie Sadler, and the 24 straight losses, didn't exactly make DeKalb a football haven. Then came Joe Novak. Over time he changed the direction of the NIU program. He lifted the Huskies to big name victories over Alabama and Maryland and brought the likes of Larry English, Garrett Wolfe, Michael Turner and Chandler Harnish to DeKalb. A new NIU program was born.
Now the Huskies are 3-0 against the Rockets since 2010. One of those victories was a 65-30 dominating performance over Terrance Owens in his first collegiate start.
Still, with no geographical ties, or a hatred filled back story, it's hard to find the basis for a rivalry. We could say Jamaal Bass, created some hatred, but that's not really going to be conducive to the conversation.
Toledo hasn't been to a MAC Championship game since 2004. Meanwhile NIU has been to four in that same span of time. It seems that every year, late in the season the Huskies and Rockets are vying for the MAC West. Divisional games that are played every year, and often have a trip to Detroit on the line will create a flame for a rivalry. It may be a hated rival on one side, but it’s growing. I heard Tom Matukewitz, former NIU linebacker’s coach and one game interim head coach and now Toledo defensive coordinator was less than cordial with previous colleagues and players of his, after last year’s 31-24 NIU victory. There are a few things I find that have created an interesting and growing rivalry between these two:
- They have both been fighting for dominance in the MAC West, often with Toledo spurning the upstart Huskies hopes.
- NIU HATES TOLEDO. No bones about that. There was a sign that closely resembled Tuck Foledo that hung up in NIU’s locker room and was flying around Huskie Stadium this past year. Also, just ask NIU players thoughts on their goals each year, nestled behind 'win the MAC' and 'have a high team GPA', 'beat Toledo' falls in line. Jeremy Werner portrays those NIU feelings in this story from 2010.
- Rockets fans are starting to have some angst against the Huskies and their fans. It seems like any time I get on a message board there is an internet tussle between NIU and Toledo fans.
- Who doesn't like some week night #MACtion between two top MAC teams. Two years ago it was 63 to 60, three years ago it was 65-30. Last year was tightly contested. Who remembers the 20-19 battle in 2009. Toledo put up 70, that’s right 70 on the injury riddled 2007 Huskies. These games have been exciting, close (or in some cases embarrassing), have had solid crowds, and had national audiences over the past ten years. Just ask Nate Pentecost.
Both teams have been wildly successful, and the past ten years have been ultra competitive. But it's really been in the last five years, since NIU has started to control things, that rivalry has started to become a real thing. We all know if we went inside those locker rooms, neither team would have a good thing to say about the other squad. Where is each program headed and what does that do to this budding rivalry?