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Northern Illinois faces tough test in Central Michigan

Dan Enos Ryan Radcliff

Dan Enos, Ryan Radcliff

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The facts: 2:30 p.m., ESPN3, 1160-AM.

Updated: October 30, 2012 6:13AM

DeKALB — You don’t have to go too far back to remember the time when Central Michigan was a Mid-American Conference powerhouse.

From 2006 to ’09, the Chippewas made four consecutive bowl games and won the MAC three times. But that very success turned Central Michigan into a coaching feeder program for BCS schools, like so many other MAC programs.

After the Chippewas’ 2006 MAC title, coach Brian Kelly left for Cincinnati, and he’s now trying to lead Notre Dame back to prominence. His replacement, Butch Jones, ended up replacing Kelly once again when Cincinnati hired him away from Mount Pleasant in 2009.

On came Dan Enos, a former Michigan State quarterback who was an assistant in East Lansing from 2006 to ’09. During Enos’ first two seasons, Central Michigan fell on some hard times, finishing 3-9 in 2010 and 2011.

But Enos’ team finally might be turning a corner. Central Michigan comes into the game Saturday at Huskie Stadium with a 2-1 record. Last week, the Chippewas had an exciting 32-31 win at Iowa, which beat Northern Illinois in Week 1.

Central Michigan had a young team during Enos’ first two seasons, but the Chippewas return 18 starters from last season.

NIU coach Dave Doeren said part of the reason the MAC West looks so deep is because teams such as Central Michigan have played younger players the last few years. The Chippewas also have an experienced quarterback in Ryan Radcliff, who’s in his third year as a starter.

“There are some really good teams that have senior quarterbacks,’’ Doeren said, ‘‘and a lot of these coaches now that are in their third or fourth year in the league came in and played young guys, and now all of those guys are third-year starters in their systems. You can see the growth that has taken place on their teams.”

The last time NIU and Central Michigan played each other, the Huskies went up to Mount Pleasant and were handed a 48-41 loss in their 2011 MAC opener. It was the last time NIU lost a conference game, and the Huskies won every game the rest of the season on their way to a MAC championship and a bowl-game victory.

The Chippewas definitely can run the ball. Junior running back Zurlon Tipton has rushed for 314 yards and is averaging 7.1 yards per carry.

During last week’s 30-23 victory over Kansas, the Huskies had trouble stopping the Jayhawks out of the Wildcat formation, something Central Michigan could show, as well.

“It depends on how they feel about studying our game from Saturday because we had our moments where we struggled in the Kansas game to get that bottled up,” NIU defensive coordinator Jay Niemann said. “If they feel there’s something they can exploit, I’m sure they’re going to feature it.

“Hopefully we’ve got our bugs worked out. Through a good week of practice here, I think we’ve done a good job of getting corrections made, and players understand what they have to do.”

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