It's Week 4 of the college football season, and Northern Illinois finally gets to play a home game.
The Huskies took their show on the road in Week 1 and won in dramatic fashion at Iowa. Then came the bye week. Then came this past Saturday's 45-35 win at Idaho. NIU is 2-0, and finally their home fans will get to cheer the team on — the first chance to do so in quite some time.
The last NIU home game came against Toledo on Nov. 14 of last season, the 11th game of an eventual 14-game campaign for the Huskies, who played in neutral-site postseason games in both the MAC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl.
"I know the guys are excited about that, and as coaches we're excited about it, too," coach Rod Carey said Tuesday. "I think it's been since Toledo last year that we played at home. So it's been a while since we've been at Huskie Stadium. So we're really excited about that and excited to see our fans come out, which I fully expect they will. They've been great. You know the Orange Bowl was obviously awesome, and the interest is probably there right now. It's the first home game, and it's going to be nice out too. It's going to be 70 during the day. I don't know what it's going to be at night, so really excited about the whole thing."
The Huskies' opponent for this homecoming will be a local one, as Eastern Illinois comes to DeKalb on Saturday. The Panthers are the lone FCS team on NIU's schedule, but beware of judging Eastern by its FCS cover. The Panthers were one of those eight FCS teams that topped FBS opponents in Week 1. They took down San Diego State in California and did it in somewhat dominating fashion, 40-19. They followed that up with a 40-37 overtime win against Southern Illinois and dropped 57 points on Illinois State. That's a 3-0 record, and the Panthers are hungry to make it a win in three straight contests in its Land of Lincoln round robin.
"I don't think I have to tell them that a whole ton, because they watch film and they see it," Carey said about preparing for the Panthers. "The one thing that is true is that when a guy doesn't get recruited by a school he thinks he's good enough to play at, you've got a chip on your shoulder. We kind of live that way around here. I guarantee Eastern has a lot of the same situations on their team. So, I don't think I have to tell our guys, because we're never in a position where we're better than somebody, we just have to outwork them and go about it the hard way.
"Am I surprised that they're 3-0? No, looking at that film, no way. They're a good team, and they simply have gotten out to a fast start and finished the games the right way."
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And Eastern is getting the love from more than just the NIU interview room. It's ranked No. 10 in the FCS coaches poll.
"We don't underestimate any team we play," safety Dominique Ware said. "We prepare as much as we do for a I-AA school as much as we do for a I-A. Their division doesn't affect what we're going to do in our game plan and practice. They have beaten a school that's bigger than them already, in San Diego State, and we don't want that happening to us, so we're going to just prepare like we usually do."
It might have been a bit of a day to forget for the NIU defense last time out against Idaho, as they allowed 35 points, but the Husky offense was as strong as ever. The offense amassed 508 yards, and quarterback Jordan Lynch showed why his school is hyping him as a Heisman candidate, scoring five total touchdowns and leading the team with 159 rushing yards.
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So after a shootout in the Gem State, the Huskies could be returning home to find themselves embroiled in another one in the Prairie State. It's something Carey's hoping to avoid, but the conditions are certainly ripe for that type of game.
"I don't know what to predict that way," Carey said. "Would it shock me with their ability to score and our ability? No. Certainly I'm not hoping for that. That's one of those big things again, and you can't get the big things without a bunch of little things. And it's Tuesday before we've taken the field yet. We're in the middle of trying to design those little things, and hopefully we can build it into something big."