Despite Orange Bowl defeat, NIU takes step toward its goal

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Despite Orange Bowl defeat, NIU takes step toward its goal

Updated: 12:50 a.m.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Northern Illinois earned and deserved the right to play in the Orange Bowl, but in a 31-10 loss, the Huskies didn't always look as if they belonged on the same field as Florida State.

Ultimately, Rod Carey's squad was overmatched by a team bigger, faster and stronger across the board. FSU had a massive athletic advantage, but the Seminoles were unable to put the game out of reach -- despite a truckload of chances -- until the fourth quarter.

"After the fourth quarter, we let it slip away," wide receiver Martel Moore said, "and then we didn't retaliate like we were supposed to do, like we've done all season."

But NIU had a spurt of momentum in the third quarter, pumping life into the stagnant Huskies' offense if only for a fleeting moment. Jordan Lynch -- who struggled all game -- hit Akeem Daniels for a 55-yard gain on third-and-15, followed that with a 22-yard run and finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown strike to Moore.

RELATED: Seminoles batter memory of controversial comments out of Lynch

The Huskies then, in true underdog fashion, attempted and recovered an onside kick. Lynch drove NIU into FSU territory, but threw the Huskies' surge away with an interception trying to thread an impossible needle.

An FSU offense that often appeared disinterested helped keep Northern Illinois within striking distance. But NIU didn't have a Herculean effort in them Tuesday night, falling short of what would've been necessary for the Huskies to be competitive.

"It got frustrating at times," Lynch said. "We tried to keep our composure and we had a lot of good stuff. We didn't execute at times, myself, I missed a lot of throws out there that would've helped our O-line out. There's a reason they're a top-five defense in the nation."

Still, despite its three-touchdown loss, Northern Illinois deserved to be in South Florida, enjoying 70-degree weather while DeKalb shivered in 9-degree temperatures.

By the letter of the law, NIU's season merited a bid to the Orange Bowl. They did what was necessary to get to this point, to have the opportunity to play a champion hailing from a power conference. Sure, they could've beat Iowa Sept. 1 at Soldier Field, but as a Top 16 team ranked higher than two automatically-qualifying conference champs (Louisville and Wisconsin), the Huskies earned their bid to the biggest game in program history.

The game didn't validate the MAC so much as it validated the system, one that admitted a Cinderella into the dance while a bevy of Top 10 SEC teams stood on the sidelines. That access won't go away when the FBS level shifts to a new playoff format in 2014, as the top-ranked team from the Big East, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt will be guaranteed a spot in a "big" bowl. So in theory, access will be easier -- and at the least, simpler.

NIU cleared the BCS hurdle, and did so before any other program in the MAC. But national relevancy isn't built in a single season. It took Boise State years of success to move from being a novelty to being taken seriously. While Carey refused to answer a question about the next step for the program, Moore made it clear NIU's goal is to be at the level of the gold standard among non-power conference schools.

"Going to be a Boise (State) or TCU, hopefully," Moore, a senior, said of where he hopes the program will go. "The teams have been getting better ever since I got here. I think it's going to continue to get better, and everybody works hard to be a Boise or a TCU."

That explanation went a step further -- probably one that's too far, since in the age of cash grabs in conference realignment NIU doesn't offer much, even if the program achieves a level of sustained success.

"Just keep working hard to eventually move into a bigger conference so we could play other opponents, like tonight," Moore continued. "Just playing against Florida State, they're the best team in the ACC. We can play with any other ACC team."

It'll take years of sustained success for NIU's best chance to win a major bowl game to be on a wing and a prayer, when onside kicks won't be a necessary component of an upset-minded gameplan. This year was a step in the right direction, even with a loss in a game grudgingly dominated by FSU.

"The fact that we lost doesn't put a damper on the overall season, we had a 12-win season for the first time in school history," offensive lineman Matt Krempel said. "I think we are going to take motivation out of tonight and move forward."

DePaul basketball program on the rise after landing 5-star recruit Tyger Campbell

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AP

DePaul basketball program on the rise after landing 5-star recruit Tyger Campbell

DePaul hoops received a huge boost this week as five-star recruit Tyger Campbell committed to the university.

The elite point guard recruit out of La Lumiere, will join the Class of 2018, choosing DePaul over schools like Michigan State, Illinois and Memphis.

"I like DePaul and honestly my coach (Shane Heirman) just went there and we have a great connection and he's always had my back," Campbell told Scout.com. "I like [DePaul] coach Dave Leitao, too. I like his program and he's an intelligent guy.

"Mainly what I like about the school is I want to help bring it back. I love Chicago; it's a great city. I want to bring the city a college back to cheer for."

Campbell also said the Blue Demons' new Wintrust Arena at McCormick Place Event Center, which is slated to open this fall, is a big draw for him.

The Blue Demons are a combined 18-45 the last two seasons and hasven't had a winning season since 2006-07 when they went 20-14 and made the NIT Quarterfinals.

The program last made the NCAA Tournament in 2003-04 during Leitao's first stint as the team's head coach.

Northern Illinois adds running back Fotis Kokosioulis

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USA TODAY

Northern Illinois adds running back Fotis Kokosioulis

Northern Illinois University added it's fourth known verbal commitment today in its growing Class of 2018.

Maine South junior running back Fotis Kokosioulis (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) added an offer from the Huskies on Tuesday after making a spring practice visit, and today he gave head coach Rod Carey his verbal commitment.

"I chose NIU because it's been a school that I've liked for awhile now," Kokosioulis said moments ago. "I like the facilities at NIU, the stadium and everything else they have to offer. I also really like all the coaches at NIU. I felt that even if I got more offers I would've still chose NIU over other schools. I know that there are bigger school and programs but I feel that I just fit in well at NIU, so I committed."

Kokosioulis, who was an All-State performer for the Class 8A state champion Maine South Hawks in 2016, is now the fourth known in-state verbal commitment for Rod Carey and the Huskies and the fifth known commitment overall. Kokosioulis joins Andrew defensive end Mike DeHaan, Plainfield East defensive end Jack Sullivan and Danville tight end Julian Pearl in the NIU Huskies in-state Class of 2018.