Take a look at the MAC standings.
You'd think Northern Illinois, what with its spotless 9-0 record and No. 18 ranking in the BCS standings, would be sitting on top of the MAC West. But you'd be wrong.
No, first place in the division belongs to Ball State, thanks to the fact that the Cardinals have played one more game than the Huskies. But still, Ball State is having a dream season of its own. The Cardinals are 9-1 overall, the lone loss a Week 3 road defeat at North Texas. But Ball State is putting up big numbers on offense, averaging 39.9 points per game.
And you thought NIU was the only good team in the MAC.
"They throw really well and they run it really well, to be really general for you. It's not that they've got some scheme that's going to go ahead and wow you and go ahead and create a million problems — although they have a great scheme and it's well coached," Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey said at his weekly press conference on Thursday. "I just think the execution of it is what you look at. They are in year three into their system, similar to what we are here, and you can see that the execution is at a high high level right now."
For the majority of this season, though the Huskies won't admit to this, Northern Illinois has crushed one opponent after another, preying on the weak competition of their conference. But, if the Huskies are going to make it back to a BCS bowl game for the second consecutive season — something that remains a very real possibility — they'll need to beat a quality opponent. Enter Ball State.
But even if you're not buying that hurdles do exist in the MAC, you must realize the importance of this game. If Northern Illinois trips up, it would need Ball State to lose its final game to Miami (Ohio) in order to even make the MAC title game. Lose this game, and Ball State keeps its division lead. Win it, and that cruise to the MAC title and a potential big-time bowl becomes that much easier.
"I know last year, I think they finished pretty strong. In their season ender, they were one of the toughest opponents of the MAC last year, they gave us trouble at their place," quarterback Jordan Lynch said Thursday. "When the schedule came out, you try to take it only one game at the time, but everyone takes a peek a little farther and saw we had Ball State."
"Like Jordan said they're a great team," linebacker Michael Santacaterina said. "I know two years ago we had a tough game at home that came down to a penalty call. Last year they were up at their place, we came back and won. They're a great team, we're excited about this game, and we're ready for the challenge."
And if a date with Ball State wasn't enough to try and throw the Huskies off the scent of a MAC championship, this game will be played on a Wednesday. In fact, NIU plays its next three games mid-week. The good news about that? NIU gets a chance to play in front of a national audience three weeks in a row.
Take care of business, and the voters will have no choice but to notice.