There’s a big conference championship game this weekend with huge BCS implications featuring two 11-1 teams.
Obviously, I’m referring to the MAC championship game.
Defending league champion and 21st-ranked Northern Illinois takes on 17th-ranked Kent State in the biggest title game in league history. The winner has a shot at clinching a berth in a lucrative BCS bowl game, which would be the first BCS berth for a MAC team in history.
BCS rules state that if a champion from a non-AQ conference is ranked in the top 16 of the BCS standings and is ranked higher than a champion from one of the six AQ conferences (cough*Big East*cough), then the non-AQ champ gets an automatic bid.
There are no Big East teams in the BCS rankings, and with #16 UCLA expected to lose the Pac-12 title game to Stanford, Kent State is in prime position to clinch the MAC’s first BCS bid.
It would cap off a historic year for the Golden Flashes. Under second-year head coach Darrell Hazell, Kent State had its best regular season in school history and first winning season since 2001. Regardless of the game’s outcome, Kent State will be playing in its first bowl game since 1972.
The Golden Flashes feature a prodigious rushing attack (11th nationally) led by two 1,000 rushers in Dri Archer (1,373 yards, 14 TDs) and Trayion Durham (1,199 yards, 14 TDs).
Those two will have to bring their ‘A’ game against a stingy Northern Illinois defense that ranks 15th nationally in scoring defense, yielding a paltry 17.5 points a game.
The Huskies–who are also led by a second-year coach, Dave Doeren–set a school record for victories and have been a juggernaut in the MAC the past few years. Northern Illinois has a 16-game conference winning streak, is making its third-straight championship game appearance, and is seeking a second-consecutive conference crown.
Despite losing stud quarterback Chandler Harnish, the Huskies may be even better on offense with junior Jordan Lynch holding the reins. Lynch has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 2,750 yards, 23 touchdowns, and only 4 interceptions. He’s also added 1,611 yards on the ground with 16 rushing touchdowns and set an FBS record for quarterbacks by rushing for 100 yards or more in 10 straight games. He’s third in the country in total offense at 363.4 yards a game and is the driving force behind a Northern Illinois offense that scores 40 points a game and boasts the country’s 9th-best rushing attack. That potent ground attack will be tested going up against the second-best rush defense in the MAC.
Kent State has proven week-in and week-out that they aren’t fazed by all this newfound success. Hazell has his team focused and ready to play, and Archer is one of the most electrifying rushers in America. Winning a conference title and securing a BCS birth would be a fitting way to end a dream season, and the Golden Flashes have an excellent chance to pull it off.
Still, it’s hard to count out Nothern Illinois. The Huskies are tough and talented on both sides of the ball, and they simply have more balance and firepower. Lynch is the difference-maker; he’s arguably the best player you’ve never heard of and gives the Huskies an element in the passing game that Kent State can’t match.
Northern Illinois is the pick, but no matter who wins, it’ll be a helluva fun game to watch.