CAMPUS CHECK-IN: NIU enjoys a quick start to Mid-American Conference play

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DEKALB – Last year, they played six games in the Mid-American Conference in a condensed season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and failed to win a single one of them.

But Northern Illinois is flipping the script early in the 2021 campaign, starting with a season-opening upset of Georgia Tech in Atlanta and with their start to MAC play. In fact, they’ve already doubled their win total in the conference just two games in.

A 22-20 victory over Toledo improved the Huskies to 2-0 in the MAC as they look ahead to their third game with Bowling Green on Saturday at 2:30 PM in DeKalb. The win over the Rockets along with a seven-point triumph over Eastern Michigan the week before has the team at the top of the West Division standings by themselves.

Head coach Thomas Hammock said this week that he believes the group has yet to play their best game but likes the way they are winning games early.

“We still haven’t played our best football yet and we’re finding ways to win, and I think that type of toughness, that type of grittiness I think helps you along the way,” said Hammock. “Our kids, they practice extremely hard, they’re extremely disciplined, extremely focused, and that goes a long way.”

NORTHWESTERN: Keeping the Faith

EVANSTON – A year after winning the Big Ten West, the road has been a little rocky in Evanston.

The team has alternated between wins and losses starting with a Week 1 defeat against Michigan State and continuing to their last game against Nebraska in Lincoln. Before the bye week, the Wildcats were crushed by the Cornhuskers 56-7 to drop them to 2-3 on the season.

Now 0-2 in the Big Ten, Pat Fitzgerald and the team have work to do to get themselves back into position in the conference along with a shot at a bowl game. It starts with Rutgers for homecoming at Ryan Field at 11 AM on Saturday with six games remaining after that.

Despite the struggle, the head coach still has faith in the group and the depth they’re building.

“We’ve played a lot of guys. I think that’s been a positive, probably more guys than we’ve ever played, which at times that’s been positive and at other times has been negative because of our lack of execution, going through some growing pains that way,” said Fitzgerald. “But I really love this group of guys. I think they’re a terrific group of young men, I think they’re working their tails off.

“What I’ve got to find a way to do is get them to take the work they’re putting in during the week, which I have zero issues with, and kinda get those…a lot of times I talk about a business trip, just take that mentality into the games. We’ve been too inconsistent, and that’s on me as a coach. We’ve just got to get them to trust themselves and be consistent.”

Illinois and Notre Dame Have the Bye Week

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