Top 13 of 2013: Northern Illinois takes national stage in 2013, the Year of the Huskie

Top 13 of 2013: Northern Illinois takes national stage in 2013, the Year of the Huskie
December 21, 2013, 9:45 am
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Vinnie Duber is taking a look back at what turned out to be a memorable year in the Windy City, by counting down the 13 biggest Chicago sports stories of 2013. Check back each day to see what other storylines were good enough to make the list.

In DeKalb — and increasingly further across the country — 2013 will be remembered as a year that saw the Huskies of Northern Illinois reach new heights.

When the calendar flipped over from 2012 to 2013, Northern was just hours away from experiencing the most prestigious moment in program history. The New Year's night appearance in the Orange Bowl was the first BCS appearance in school history, the first BCS appearance in MAC history. The Huskies were just the fifth team from a non-automatic-qualifying conference to reach a BCS bowl game.

And although the result of the game was hardly something to celebrate, as the Huskies were thumped, 31-10, by the Florida State Seminoles, the appearance was the perfect way to cap such a remarkable season, one that saw NIU finish 12-1, winning every game after a season-opening loss to Iowa, including an undefeated run in MAC play that culminated in a double-overtime win in the MAC title game against Kent State.

So the task then for the 2013 season became to do it all over again. And up until the season's final game, it looked like that was exactly what was going to happen.

With quarterback Jordan Lynch breaking record after record, the Huskies barnstormed their way through the campaign. They kicked things off with another tough one against the Hawkeyes — the team that dealt them their only loss the year prior — but this time NIU came out on top thanks to an interception in the game's closing minutes. A few closely contested, high-scoring non-conference wins followed, and after that, it was mainly smooth sailing, as the Huskies won game after game against their MAC opponents, typically by large margins.

As the season marched on, the Huskies remained one of a group of undefeated teams that grew smaller and smaller by the week. Soon, it looked like an undefeated record and a MAC title would again land them in a BCS bowl game.

Meanwhile, Lynch kept on impressing. Twice — against Central Michigan then again against Western Michigan — he set the single-game rushing record for a quarterback. When he posted a crooked number in the touchdown column of his stat line very game, the talk started that the record-setting QB could be a contender for the Heisman Trophy. After all, he was doing things both passing and rushing that no other player in the country was doing. In the Oct. 26 game against Eastern Michigan, Lynch passed for 223 yards and four touchdowns, rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass. Dual threat? Try triple threat.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, after running roughshod over the MAC for months, their undefeated record, conference title and spot in a BCS game all vanished in the MAC Championship Game against Bowling Green on Dec. 6. The Falcons, boasting one of the nation's top defenses, dominated the game, winning 47-27.

It was a shocking loss for NIU, one that dashed those high hopes in a hurry. But, though disappointment grabbed the headlines, there was much to be proud of. The program, after all, capped it's second straight one-loss season. And, of course, there was Lynch.

The NIU quarterback was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and ended up finishing third in balloting, behind winner Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. Lynch's third-place finish matched the highest ever for a player from a non-automatic-qualifying conference. And the trip to New York was hardly a loss, as Lynch continued to bring more national exposure to the program than ever before.

Though 2013 might have ended with a tough consolation prize for NIU — a trip to the Poinsettia Bowl rather than a BCS game — the year was definitely the year of the Huskie. From the Orange Bowl to the Heisman ceremony, Northern took its place on a national stage in 2013.

Top 13 stories of 2013

13. Wins and losses don't define Chris Sale's season 

12. Nate Robinson's late playoff heroics beat Nets 

11. Northern Illinois takes national stage in 2013, the Year of the Huskie

10. Cubs fire Sveum, showing cracks in foundation 

9. The bizarre catfishing of Manti Te'o

8. Cutler, McCown and the Bears' starting QB role

7. Blackhawks' record-breaking start

6. Historically bad season for Cubs and White Sox

5. Notre Dame crushed in BCS Championship Game

4. Bears sever ties with Brian Urlacher