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NIU football deserved more respect than it received

Rod Carey who took over as NIU’s coach when Dave Doeren left for North CarolinState looks keep Huskies rolling.

Rod Carey, who took over as NIU’s coach when Dave Doeren left for North Carolina State, looks to keep the Huskies rolling. | Alan Diaz~AP

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Updated: January 16, 2013 6:28PM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Be careful what you wish for.

No doubt, Northern Illinois wouldn’t trade its Orange Bowl trip for anything. The first BCS bowl trip by a Mid-American Conference school will forever hold a special place in its memory case as well as its history book.

It followed a 12-1 season in which the Huskies shrugged off an opening loss to Iowa and won 12 straight games before losing to Florida State 31-10 on Tuesday. They did it with a new quarterback, Jordan Lynch, who set a single-season rushing record for major-college QBs, and a new offensive coordinator, Rod Carey, who ascended to the head-coaching throne for the Orange Bowl trip when Dave Doeren left after two years to take the N.C. State job.

But it wasn’t all Cinderella at the ball.

Instead of being saluted universally for its remarkable achievement, Northern Illinois was ridiculed in many corners as a team that somehow had exploited the BCS system to bump venerable Oklahoma out of the reward it deserved.

On top of that, quotes attributed to Lynch last week, that NIU planned “to have [the Seminoles] on their knees — and then just keep pounding away,’’ added another perception of NIU as ugly ducklings rather than media darlings.

Perhaps unused to this level of media attention, the Huskies chose to let that situation simmer rather than engage in a pregame denial controversy. After the game Tuesday, though, it was a different matter.

“Those [comments] were taken out of context, and that’s not right,’’ Carey said angrily. “He didn’t say that, and I want to say I’ve been waiting until after the game to say that. Everybody made a big deal out of it. I was there. I was at the interview. He did not make those comments.’’

That sure didn’t sound like Lynch. But the reporter has a good reputation, too. So who knows?

Throw in a pregame report that an apparently lubricated Orange Bowl rep told an NIU official, “You guys don’t even deserve to be here. We didn’t even want you here’’ — and you have a dream trip to Miami bizarrely embroiled in controversy.

How rude.

When Northern looked like a welterweight in the ring with a heavyweight in its loss on Tuesday, the NIU doubters seemingly had their last say in the discussion about whether the Huskies belonged.

But teams from the Land of Lincoln are now 0-3 in BCS bowls — and the first two also had messy performances. The Illini lost to USC 49-17 in the 2008 Rose Bowl and trailed 34-7 at halftime of a 47-34 loss to LSU in the 2002 Sugar Bowl.

People grumbled that Illinois didn’t belong after those games. But they didn’t rant it quite this loudly.

More importantly, NIU is a solid and classy program that’s positioned to keep rolling along.

Lynch leads a well-stocked offense that could return nine starters. And while seven starters depart from a defense that played extremely well vs. FSU, the football team in DeKalb has shown itself to be a well-oiled machine that knows how to install new parts without missing a beat.

Carey, who will be the school’s fourth coach in seven years, looks like he’ll continue the success at NIU, one of six schools that have won at least 10 games the last three years.

The others are Alabama, Boise State, LSU, Oregon and Stanford, which puts the Huskies in an elite group — even if they don’t get the respect they deserve.

It’s a program that knows how it wants to play and does an excellent job of recruiting and coaching to its philosophy.

NIU does it so well, it wouldn’t be surprising if it knocked on the BCS door again very soon.

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