N. Illinois-E. Michigan Preview
Before Northern Illinois can defend its Mid-American Conference title, the Huskies have one more regular-season hurdle to clear.
Ranked for the first time in two years, the No. 24 Huskies look to tie a school record with their 11th straight victory and continue their dominance over host Eastern Michigan on Friday.
Northern Illinois (10-1, 7-0) has won 15 consecutive games over MAC opponents - the longest league winning streak in the nation. Paced by dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch, the Huskies secured their third straight trip to the conference title game with a 31-24 home win over Toledo last Wednesday.
That victory also helped Northern Illinois crack the Top 25 for the first time since Nov. 28, 2010. The Huskies, who opened the season with an 18-17 loss to Iowa at Soldier Field, have won 19 of 20 overall. The program last won 11 in a row over the 1964-65 seasons.
"We set high expectations for ourselves," Lynch said. "We feel like we can win every game. When we step out onto the field, we think we can win."
The Huskies, whose last league defeat came at Central Michigan on Oct. 1, 2011, will face No. 23 Kent State in the MAC championship game Nov. 30 in Detroit.
"We're excited to go back (to the championship) and we can't wait," said Lynch, a huge reason his team ranks 12th in the FBS at 39.7 points per game. "We have one more game. We're going to go up there and beat Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti."
Beating Eastern Michigan (2-9, 1-6) has been a regular occurrence for Northern Illinois, which has won four in a row and 10 of 11 in the series. The Huskies have outscored the Eagles 218-40 during a five-game winning streak in Ypsilanti dating to a 39-32 loss in 2000.
Eastern Michigan got a glimpse of what Lynch can do during a 71-3 home loss to NIU in 2010, when the then-freshman converted two carries into 142 yards and two touchdowns in relief of starter Chandler Harnish.
Lynch has more than filled the void left by Harnish's graduation, throwing for 2,582 yards with 22 TDs and four interceptions while rushing for 1,504 yards and 16 scores in 2012. He leads all FBS quarterbacks in rushing and his 136.7 rushing yards per game rank third overall in the subdivision.
The junior joins Michigan's Denard Robinson as the only quarterbacks ever to surpass 1,500 yards rushing and 2,500 passing. He needs 199 yards to break Robinson's FBS single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback, set in 2010.
Lynch threw for a season-high 407 yards with three TDs and ran for 162 against Toledo.
"He's a great player," Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. "I think the thing you know in this conference is that the best quarterback in this conference usually has the chance to win a MAC championship. I think right now he's playing at an extremely high level.
"He's certainly a special football player. He's got a lot of things to look forward to."
Lynch is not the only reason for NIU's success.
Senior Martel Moore has set career highs with 58 receptions, 899 receiving yards and 10 TDs. He caught seven passes for a season-high 153 yards and two scores versus Toledo.
Defensively, the Huskies are giving up 18.5 points per contest.
That does not bode well for an Eastern Michigan squad that has been outscored 176-21 during its four-game skid in the series.
Versatile senior Alex Gillett recorded 142 total yards as the Eagles snapped a three-game overall slide with a 29-23 win at Western Michigan on Saturday. Gillett threw for 147 yards with a TD and ran for 67 more in last year's 18-12 loss at NIU.