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NIU not pretty, but pretty good

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch right scrambles under pressure from Idaho linebacker Eric Tuipulotu first half an NCAA college football

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, right, scrambles under pressure from Idaho linebacker Eric Tuipulotu in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (AP Photo/Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Geoff Crimmins)

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Updated: September 25, 2013 2:08PM



Even though they’re 3-0, they haven’t done much to pass the eye test among voters and other strangers.

But that’s nothing new at Northern Illinois, which even has tested the faith of the Huskie faithful.

What NIU has done, though, with its Cardiac Canines start is give itself a chance to build on last season’s unprecedented Orange Bowl euphoria. And while the stars would have to align for another BCS trip, the Huskies need to keep winning to stay in that unlikely picture.

‘‘We’ve only played three games,’’ coach Rod Carey said when asked about similarities and differences. ‘‘I don’t want to say too much. Last year’s team put themselves up there in the stratosphere as far as records around here.’’

But there are similarities.

‘‘Our seniors are playing like seniors,’’ he said. ‘‘Offensively, we’re pretty explosive, and defensively, we’re pretty opportunistic.’’

In their first three games, the heart-stoppers from DeKalb also have shown their knack for winning.

◆ Down 27-20 at Iowa, they scored 10 points in the last 5:05 to win 30-27.

◆ Down 28-14 at Idaho in the third quarter, NIU rallied to win 45-35.

◆ Down 20-0 midway through the first quarter of their sold-out (23,595) home opener Saturday, the Huskies rallied to hold off Eastern Illinois 43-39 for their 22nd consecutive home win.

All of those thrills and spills have produced only 30 ticks in the two major polls, 21 votes (30th place) from the coaches and only nine (31st) in the AP media poll.

What the voters probably see is a messy win at Idaho, more famous for potatoes than football.

If they noticed at all, the voters probably saw an even narrower home escape against second-tier EIU, and never mind that Eastern quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has a chance to join the list of Panthers in the NFL, a list that includes Tony Romo, Sean Payton and Mike Shanahan.

NIU’s win at Iowa? No doubt it’s being taken as a sign that the Hawkeyes are in for a long year.

Northern may not move the needle much if it spoils Purdue’s homecoming Saturday. But a second Big Ten road win would give it something four Big Ten teams couldn’t manage last fall. NIU also would equal the 2003 MAC achievement of Bowling Green, which beat Purdue and Northwestern.

Winning ugly might not be pretty, but it is a positive trend. In its last 13 games decided by seven or fewer points, NIU is 12-1.

While refreshingly pleasant and insightful for a man in his line of work, Carey rightfully doesn’t want anything to do with hoopla and speculation — or the meaning of the Huskies being favored by a field goal over the Boilermakers.

‘‘You ask me these big-picture questions, and all I’ve got is Purdue right here,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t know about underdogs; I don’t know about point spreads. I don’t read newspapers. I don’t have time. I have a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old at home, and I have to watch a bunch of film.’’

Here’s why the Huskies remain big underdogs to produce another Kirk Herbstreit rant about who deserves to play in a BCS bowl.

For NIU to play on the biggest stage, it’ll need to keep winning, of course. The Huskies also will need Fresno State, which trumps them in the non-automatic-qualifier pecking order, to lose.

And they will need to finish in the top 16, ahead of a BCS conference champion, as they did with Wisconsin last year.

That’s a lot to ask, especially from a Mid-American Conference team that went 12-2 last year, including its Orange Bowl loss to Florida State.

On the other hand, last year’s Huskies got to Miami despite losing to Iowa. So this year’s team already has done something last year’s team didn’t do.

Email: hgould@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HerbGould



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