MIKE NIETO: Northern Illinois can build off Orange Bowl experience

2013-01-03T19:00:00Z 2013-12-21T21:12:57Z MIKE NIETO: Northern Illinois can build off Orange Bowl experienceMike Nieto Prep Beat nwitimes.com
January 03, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

In the end, there was no upset, but the Northern Illinois football team upset the status quo by making an appearance in the Orange Bowl.

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said they shouldn't have been in a BCS bowl. Many fans felt the same, but Northern Illinois didn't make the rules, it just played by them.

Sure, you wanted NIU to shock the college football world and beat Florida State. You also knew it was a tough task, but NIU hung with the Seminoles for almost three quarters. A fake punt, a turnover and a recovered onside kick were in order, but in the end, Florida State's tough defense, quickness and depth were too much.

It was a 31-10 defeat, but not only did the Huskies wake up the college football world, maybe they woke up their students and alumni.

NIU quarterback and Mount Carmel grad Jordan Lynch caught the nation's attention, though he struggled Tuesday in the Orange Bowl. The Huskies finished 12-2 and had the most regular-season wins in the program's 113-year history. They were also 1th in the BCS rankings.

Northern's students need to stay on campus on home football weekends instead of commuting back to the Chicago suburbs. For six home games, the Huskies averaged 15,670 fans per game. That is not bad, but they did not have one sellout in the 24,000-seat Huskie Stadium, which is a great place to watch a football game.

The Northern exposure may help in recruiting. NIU has players who were passed up by the BCS schools. Lynch was one of those, but then-NIU coach Jerry Kill has the foresight to give him a shot a quarterback. A lot of high school kids who may not get a look from the "big-time" schools will take a look at DeKalb. A lot of Illinois kids will look at playing for the Huskies. With the Illinois High School Association's state football playoffs in DeKalb this November and odd years, that is a big advantage. The school and boosters have upgraded the facilities.

Guys like Lynch and Homewood-Flossmoor's Aidan Conlon would like to play in front of more fans. Alumni need to support this program. There is no reason there cannot be a few thousand more alumni or locals in the stands to go with a few thousand more students. There are about 22,000 students on campus. I would think 4,000 or so could make their way to the football game on a Saturday.

DeKalb is not that far from Naperville and the western suburbs or Rockford, where a lot of NIU alums live.

Despite the loss in the Orange Bowl, this can be a great opportunity for Northern Illinois University. It also gives other schools a reason to have hope.

This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at mike.nieto@nwi.com.

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