NIU alumni celebrate Orange Bowl bid at holiday party

954711.png

NIU alumni celebrate Orange Bowl bid at holiday party

By Jack McCarthy
CSNChicago.com

Festive white lights twinkled on a 25-foot Christmas tree rising towards the arches of the University Club's Cathedral Room as Northern Illinois University alumni gathered for a holiday party on Thursday.

But forget about the traditional Christmas hues and highlights.

Orange -- as in Orange Bowl -- was the color to celebrate as several hundred alums saluted the NIU football team's historic berth in a major college bowl game.

"I got a little emotional about it when I found out," admitted athletic director Jeff Compher as the party got under way. "This is a seminal moment in the history of our university. It's one of those defining moments that validates everything we've been doing and how we've been doing it."

The Huskies (12-1) vaulted into Bowl Championship Series contention following last Friday's Mid-American Conference double overtime title victory over Kent State.

The reward was a No. 15 spot in the final BCS rankings announced last Sunday and an unprecedented Orange Bowl berth -- the first major bowl appearance by any MAC team.

Northern Illinois, also ranked in the top 15 in two major national polls, will face No. 12 Florida State in prime time (7 p.m. Central) on New Year's Day.

The Huskies inclusion generated plenty of controversy. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit called it a joke and college football message boards have been awash with criticism of the Huskies selection, strength of schedule, mid-major status and a broken BCS system.

"So what?" says NIU alums like Dave Heide, who played under coach Bill Mallory on the 1983 California Bowl championship team.

"The thing that kind of befuddles me a little is that you look at college basketball and everybody roots for VCU, they root for Butler, they root for Gonzaga," he said. "Why not in college football? I think Herbstreit's (negative) comments were very strong that I think the country has rallied around Northern.

"I couldn't be more proud of this program, they do everything the right way."

Besides, Northern Illinois legitimately qualified under current BCS rules. And under a new system set to debut in 2014, the Huskies would also be in the field.

The past decade has seen the most successful seasons since Northern Illinois was a NCAA College Division power in the 1960s, winning a national championship in 1963 behind College Football Hall of Fame quarterback George Bork.

In 2002, the Huskies were emerging as a Mid-American power under coach Joe Novak and finished 8-4 with a MAC West championship. Two years later, Northern Illinois made its first bowl appearance since 1983 with a 34-21 victory over Troy in the Silicon Valley Classic.

Novak guided NIU to the Poinsettia Bowl in 2006, then stepped down after the Huskies slipped to 2-10 in 2007.

The three-year Jerry Kill era began the next year with the revived team finishing 6-6 and reaching the 2008 Independence Bowl, the first of five straight postseason appearances.

Northern dropped a 27-3 decision to South Florida in the 2009 International Bowl and beat Fresno State 40-17 in the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl. The next year, under former Wisconsin assistant Dave Doeren, NIU went 11-3, won a MAC championship and beat Arkansas State in the 2012 GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Doeren guided the Huskies to a 12-1 record and another MAC title this season before resigning to take the top job at North Carolina State.

Now its up to new head coach Rod Carey -- still adjusting to his quick promotion -- to continue Northerns winning ways.

A week ago I was buried in film figuring out to block Kent State's tackles, said the 42-year-old Carey, who spent the last two seasons helping guide two of the most explosive offenses in program history. "I don't have a sense of this yet, but it's fun."

NIU alumni, meanwhile, see good things to come out of the Orange Bowl experience.

"When you go to a university like NIU, it's a great institution," said Joseph Matty, NIU associate vice president for university advancement and CEO and executive director of the school's alumni association. "Our athletic program is allowing the rest of the country to see how great it is."

Raiders' move to Las Vegas approved by NFL owners: When's Bears' first trip to Sin City?

Raiders' move to Las Vegas approved by NFL owners: When's Bears' first trip to Sin City?

The Oakland Raiders won't be the Oaklnad Raiders for much longer.

NFL owners approved by a 31-1 vote Monday the Raiders' move to Las Vegas, meaning Sin City will soon have its own NFL team.

With the Raiders playing in the AFC, the move doesn't affect the Bears much. But there eventually will be a road trip to Nevada.

When's the first time the Bears could play in Vegas?

Now, that's contingent on a couple things.

First, the NFL needs to keep its current scheduling model, which pits certain divisions against one another every few seasons.

Second, will the Raiders even be playing in Vegas by 2019?

A new stadium needs to be built, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday that the Raiders will stay in Oakland for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, potentially getting to Vegas for the 2019 season — when the Bears could play there in the team's inaugural campaign in the desert. But a new stadium might not be done by then, keeping the Raiders in Vegas another season. Or, maybe the Raiders could play where UNLV plays.

Whether it's two years down the road or more, there will one day be a Bears road trip to Vegas, one it's fairly certain Chicago fans will be interested in joining.

Archie Miller a good hire at Indiana, but his promotion to the big time comes with big-time expectations

archie-miller-0327.jpg
USA TODAY

Archie Miller a good hire at Indiana, but his promotion to the big time comes with big-time expectations

Archie Miller is the new Indiana head basketball coach, and while that gives Indiana the big splash it wanted for Tom Crean's successor, it remains to be seen whether it will please the Indiana fan base and its monster-sized expectations.

Miller is a great get for the Hoosiers, a guy who's taken the Dayton Flyers to four straight NCAA tournaments, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2014, a round the Hoosiers themselves haven't reached in 15 years. Miller has Big Ten experience, a former Thad Matta assistant at Ohio State, and he has experience recruiting in Big Ten Country.

He's been in line for a promotion from the A-10 to a major-conference program for a couple years now, and he was one of the biggest names at that level that Indiana or any other major-conference program looking for a new coach could have snagged.

But weren't Indiana fans expecting Steve Alford to come back to Bloomington?

Keeping in line with the enormous expectations this fan base always seems to have for this program, the internet was hoping athletics director Fred Glass could woo the former Indiana star back to his alma mater, pry him away from the most tradition-rich program in the country to spearhead a rebuilding effort for the team that finished tied for 10th in the Big Ten standings this season.

Those hopes seemed pretty unrealistic from the beginning — though it is difficult to argue with the immense financial attractiveness any Big Ten program has — but a perfect example of the kind of expectations that await Miller.

Marquette is plenty of distance up the college-basketball ladder from Dayton, but it was Crean, too, who made a career leap to the Hoosiers almost a decade ago. Crean's nine-year tenure featured some program-saving digging out from the horrendous spot Kelvin Sampson left things in. It also featured two outright Big Ten championships and three seasons of 27 or more wins. But all that couldn't keep the crushing expectations off Crean's shoulders, and one season after he won a conference title in one of the toughest conference's in college hoops, he was out.

Crean's kind of success wasn't good enough at Indiana. Will Miller's be?

Of course there was inconsistency that accompanied Crean's winning. The Hoosiers were just two wins above .500 this season, the same thing that was true a season after Indiana earned a No. 1 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament. The two winningest seasons during Crean's tenure were followed by years in which Indiana didn't make the NCAA tournament. Not the kind of trajectory a program expecting a national championship wants to see, hence his firing.

But that goes to show how tough the task is in Bloomington, not necessarily when it comes to building a winner but when it comes to pleasing the folks in this basketball-loving state.

That's Miller's job now, and there likely won't be too long of a honeymoon period. Miller won at the lower levels of college basketball, winning 102 games over the past four seasons, but the Big Ten is a different animal. Another former Matta assistant, John Groce, found that out over his five seasons at Illinois. After getting hired off a Sweet Sixteen run at Ohio, Groce made the NCAA tournament just once in his five seasons in Champaign, the reason for the Big Ten's other coaching change this offseason.

Miller comes to Indiana with a better resume than Groce brought to Illinois — the A-10 is a much better league on an annual basis than the MAC, and Miller did more consistent winning over a longer stretch — but with a similar challenge ahead of him. Illini fans soured on Groce relatively quick, with questions about his job status lingering for a couple of years before he was fired earlier this month. Certainly Crean was never free from questions about his job status during his time in Bloomington, not even getting them to go away with a Big Ten championship last season. Will Hoosier fans treat Miller any differently if a deep tournament run doesn't come in one of Miller's first few seasons?

Of course, that all comes with the territory of being a college basketball coach, and Miller knows that well from his time as a major-conference assistant and with his brother the head coach at Arizona. But now he has to live it every day.

Miller is a great hire by Glass. It's time to find out if Indiana and its sky-high expectations make for a great landing spot for Miller.