The Huskies are undefeated. Quarterback Jordan Lynch is setting records. And for the second straight year, it looks like a trip to a BCS bowl game is a strong possibility for Northern Illinois.
But all Rod Carey is thinking about is 2003.
Success doesn't always breed national respect, something this crop of Huskies has learned as its had to claw to get into and remain in the top 25 despite an Orange Bowl appearance a year ago and a currently spotless 7-0 record. But to make sure his team doesn't forget that fact, head coach Rod Carey has been hammering home the story of the 2003 Huskies, a group that went 10-2 during the regular season and didn't even make a bowl game.
"I tend to look at history more than I look forward," Carey said during his weekly press conference Tuesday. "Ten years ago at this time on this very week, NIU was ranked No. 10 in the BCS. They ended up 10-2 and didn't go to a bowl game. Think about that. You won 10 football games and didn't go to a bowl game. That was a travesty. It was unbelievable.
"I tend to look at that and the lesson learned from that, not putting down that team any way, shape or form because that was a great team and we love those guys. We had them here last weekend, but they'll say it, that it doesn't mean anything till you're done. So you better do it the way you got here. The way we've gotten in this position so far is one little thing at a time."
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And in case the lesson of 2003 is lost on these players, some of whom were eight years old when NIU was snubbed in the early years of the new century, Carey's not letting them forget about it.
"We tell them all the time in every which way we can," he said. "They're probably sick of me telling it to them, but I'm going to keep telling them because you have to with social media the way it is. I think we have their complete attention because of where we're at, and they've seen that it's worked. It would be one thing if we were preaching this and it didn't work, but it's working so I believe we have their full attention."
The Huskies received a little of that elusive respect this week when they were ranked No. 18 in the first set of BCS standings. And, though it's been tough to gain too much praise from many pollsters, it does appear that a BCS game could be in their future — if they keep winning, of course.
"Here is the big picture," Carey explained. "I don't pay any attention to any of that stuff at anytime except in the offseason. So you go back and you look at it, and you hear the experts talk about the BCS. You can still get in the BCS with an early loss, you can't get into the BCS with a late loss. The rankings, right now, I don't know what they mean other than we better go one game at a time. Before we were ranked No. 18, we had better gone one game at a time. So it doesn't change us a whole lot, it's nice."
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While there are now so many bowl games that a repeat of 2003 is all but impossible, losing a pair of late-season games and falling out of the big-time bowl conversation is certainly a danger. This week's game against Eastern Michigan pits the undefeated Huskies against the 1-6 Eagles. And there will be more like it. UMass and Western Michigan — two more teams remaining on NIU's schedule — are a combined 1-14. Toledo is over .500 (barely) at 4-3, while Ball State appears to provide the biggest challenge. The Cardinals are 7-1.
But Carey's self-reported incessant speak of 2003 has his team ready for even those scuffling opponents.
"He's mentioned it," offensive lineman Matt Krempel said. "We're just trying to make sure we don't fall into the same path, into that kind of trap and just trying to make sure we keep our head on straight and keep going the way that we have been and keep working hard."
Comcast SportsNet will air Northern Illinois' game against Eastern Michigan starting at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.