CAMPUS CHECK IN: NIU continues their perfect run in the MAC
DEKALB – This is not something new for the program, but it’s something worth recognizing for a program that remains one of the most consistent in the State of Illinois.
Northern Illinois started the month of November by staying undefeated in the Mid-American Conference, knocking off Akron Thursday night to improve to 5-0 in the conference.
The 36-26 win over the Zips on the road was an up-and-down affair with the Huskies taking a 27-10 lead, then being forced to hold off a late charge by the hosts in the second half. Jalen McKie turned the tide in two ways in the second half – blocking an Akron point-after attempt and returning it for two points in the third quarter, then returning a fourth quarter interception for a 23-yard touchdown to provide the final margin of victory.
It continues a strong stretch of play for Rod Carey’s team, who played one of the tougher non-conference schedules this season. They lost to Iowa and Utah to open the season before beating Central Michigan in their MAC opener, then were defeated on the road by Florida State.
Since then, the Huskies have yet to lose. Three-straight MAC wins was followed by a 7-6 victory over BYU in Provo before the triumph on Thursday night in Akron. They are one of two teams left in the conference, as Buffalo leads the East Division with a 5-0 record of their own.
At the moment NIU leads the West by two full games over Toledo and Western Michigan, with the Huskies hosting the Rockets this coming Wednesday then facing the Broncos on the road at November 20th. Between those contests is a home game against Miami-Ohio on November 14th.
NOTRE DAME AND NORTHWESTERN: A Prime Time Spotlight
EVANSTON – It will be a night to remember at Ryan Field, because it’s been a while since the teams have played.
For the first time since 1976, Northwestern will host Notre Dame in Evanston, providing a national spotlight for both teams as each enters a critical November.
Yet in many ways, the pressure is on the Irish more than the Wildcats, since their desired postseason fate depends upon a victory. Brian Kelly and his Notre Dame team must stay undefeated the rest of the way to lock up a berth in the College Football Playoff. One loss and they’ll likely be on the outside looking in.
The Irish cracked the Top Four in the first playoff poll this week, sitting in the fourth spot with LSU, Clemson, and Alabama directly ahead of them. It’s something that Kelly admits to keeping it in perspective since any slip up in the last four weeks renders the poll irrelevant for his team.
“As I told our team, this one doesn’t really matter. We’ve been down this road before. We’ve been selected for this one, but it doesn’t get you anything,” said Kelly. “For us, the one that we’re interested in, the one that we’ll watch, probably we’ll watch it as a team, is the last one. That’s the one that we want to focus on. That’s the one we’ll pay attention to.”
For the Wildcats, it’s all about pride in this contest since their fate for a Big Ten West title won’t depend on a win or loss this weekend. Games against Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois will decide that fate, with victories in all three resulting in Northwestern’s first-ever trip to the Big Ten Championship Game.
ILLINOIS: Stumbling Towards The Finish
CHAMPAIGN -When they entered October, there was some hope that a turnaround could be ahead. Thirty-one days has completely changed the narrative for the Illini.
Now at 3-5 on the season, they are entering the final month of the year trying to hold things together after a 1-3 month and the resignation of defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson this week. It now has Illinois looking to save face as the third year of the Lovie Smith era enters November, starting this Saturday at Memorial Stadium against Minnesota.
Smith said he’ll be the one calling the defensive plays, having done so once before when Nickerson had to miss a game due to a death in the family.
“It’s a tough day, tough time for our program. We’re not satisfied with a lot of things that we’re doing football-wise right now, of course defensively we haven’t played great defense,” said Smith. “Medical issues come up, of course they can make you do some things that you ordinarily wouldn’t do. With that, when I look at whether it’s an injury or in this case a resignation, there always has to be another plan when things go wrong or go a different direction.”