Notre Dame may not be the only Chicagoland team to play in a BCS Bowl game.
Northern Illinois has steadily emerged as one of the country's top teams, cracking the BCS Standings at No. 21 Sunday.
The Huskies take on No. 17 Kent State in the MAC Championship Friday night, with tipoff scheduled for 6 p.m. The game will be aired on ESPN2. The winner may have a chance at earning a bid to a BCS bowl game, which would be the first time a MAC team has earned such an honor.
"We've definitely earned national respect as a conference," NIU head coach Dave Doeren said in his press conference Monday. "And it's not like only one team had a great year. There's multitude of teams that have had big wins this year in our league over BCS teams.
"If you can win this league, that says a lot about who you are. It's a very balanced league with a lot of good football teams in it and very good coaches. It'd be deserving for the best team to get the opportunity to play or whatever BCS game they put us in."
Both NIU and Kent State are 11-1 overall and 8-0 in conference play, but it was Kent State's victory over nationally-ranked Rutgers Oct. 27 that gave the Golden Flashes the boost. The Huskies' lone loss of the year came to Iowa, a one-point game played at Soldier Field on the first weekend of the season.
"Nine teams lost that were ranked higher than us, so that really opened up some doors," Doeren said. "But none of them are worth their salt if we lose this weekend. We have to win. We put ourselves in a position to make it a real argument and now we need to finish what we started here."
Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch has accounted for most of NIU's offense, racking up 2,750 passing yards and 1,611 rushing yards to go with 39 TDs (23 passing, 16 rushing) and just 4 interceptions. The Huskies rank eighth in the FBS in rushing yards (2,940) and fourth in touchdowns (64).
With 147 rushing yards in the MAC Championship, Lynch would become the country's leading rusher, passing Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, who currently has 1,757 yards.
Senior receiver Martel Moore has provided a great go-to option for Lynch in the aerial game, catching 67 balls for 1,015 yards and 11 scores. Sophomore receiver Tommylee Lewis has added 40 catches for 474 yards and 5 TDs, and has a kickoff return touchdown to boot.
Kent State boasts the 10th-best rushing offense in the league, led by junior Dri Archer (1,337 yards, 14 TDs) and sophomore Trayion Durham (1,176 yards, 14 TDs). Archer is averaging an astonishing 9.7 yards per carry and is also the team's leading receiver with 30 catches for 458 yards and 4 TDs.
"It's not a BCS talk if you lose," Doeren said. "It's pretty simple -- if you lose this game, we don't talk about it next week. It's real easy to lock them into winning this one. The challenge to me was the week before this game and the week before Toledo. Those were the games that scared me more than these kinds of games.
"When you're playing your rival for a chance to go to the championship, and then you're playing the championship for a chance to maybe play in the BCS, there's not a lot you need to say. These guys are gonna be ready."