Game of the Week: Ball State vs. No. 15 Northern Illinois

Story posted November 13, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Aaron Carr

Each week ComRadio staff writer Aaron Carr will highlight a matchup in college football that he considers to be the “Game of the Week.” If you’re going to enjoy some college football action then this is the ONE contest that you do not want to miss. Carr’s, “Game of the Week” selection for week twelve of the college football season comes to you live from Dekalb, Illinois, where a spot in the Mid-American Conference championship game, and possibly the BCS, are on the line.

The Game: Ball State Cardinals vs. No. 15 Northern Illinois Huskies

Yes…I’m just as surprised as you are.

For the first time all season, the game of the week is going to experience a healthy dose of MACtion. This Wednesday night matchup between the (9-0) Huskies and (9-1) Cardinals is without question the game of the season in the Mid-American Conference.

The winner of this game will clinch the MAC West Division Title and advance to the MAC Championship game at the end of the season. In the Huskies case, a victory could mean one step closer to a second-consecutive BCS bowl berth.

Standing firmly in the center of the Huskies path to the BCS are the Cardinals, led by senior quarterback Keith Wenning, who has thrown for 3,164 yards (4th best in the FBS) and sports a 27-5 touchdown to interception ratio.

Wenning is the best player on perhaps the best team in college football that nobody (and I mean nobody) knows about, and is on as hot a stretch as any passer in Division I. Over his last three games, the four-year starter has thrown for 12 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. 

While Ball State’s resume is nothing to write home about, only one of its nine wins is against a team with a winning record (Toledo at 6-3), it didn’t get to be 9-1 by accident.

The offense averages nearly 40 points a game, which is good for fifteenth best in college football.

Too bad for the Cardinals, the team they’re playing on Wednesday night is eighth in the country in points per game at right around 44 points a contest.

Northern Illinois has become the IT team for the MAC, winning back-to-back conference championships and appearing the Orange Bowl last season.

While conference championships are shiny and add prestige to the program, nothing adds prestige quite like BCS bowl appearances (and victories).

The Huskies have a legitimate chance of returning to the BCS again this season but must run the table in order to do so. The team has held up its end of the BCS bargain thus far, going 9-0 with a pair of wins over Big Ten teams (what’s up Iowa, Purdue?) in the first 11 weeks of the season.

The offense and the run game, both led by a quarterback that received Heisman consideration last year (more on him later), will keep Northern Illinois in most games.

The Huskies (5-0 in the MAC) can’t clinch the West Division title with a victory on Wednesday night but the Cardinals (6-0) can.

Unranked Ball State would need to benefit from unforeseen circumstances of historical and epic proportions if it hopes to become a BCS buster this season. This is a team that’s focused entirely on claiming the MAC championship, something its opponent truthfully can’t fully commit to.

Northern Illinois BCS aspirations have placed a burden, albeit perhaps an underlying one, on itself the rest of the way. Plain and simple, if the Huskies look past the Cardinals in this matchup, they can almost assuredly recycle their invitation to the BCS party.

Players to Watch:

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois: This young man is the best player in college football that you think you might know but probably still don’t. Lynch is the non-renewable resource for Northern Illinois and the MAC, and the key is enjoying him as long as humanly possible until he’s gone forever. The redshirt senior quarterback for the Huskies is the definition of a true dual threat under center, posting 1871 passing yards and 19 touchdown tosses while running for 1150 yards and 12 scores. Lynch holds four NCAA records and finished seventh in the Heisman voting last season…and he plays in the Mid-American Conference.

CB Jeffery Garrett, Ball State: The ball-hawking senior is tied for second in the MAC with five interceptions. Even more impressive is that four of those picks have come in Ball State’s last five games. He’s also shown very little hesitation in flipping the field on his interceptions as he’s returned INTs for 36 and 39 yards the past two games. Garrett might have to make it three straight games with an interception, and probably a long return, if the Cardinals have any hope of slowing down a Northern Illinois offense that ranks fifth in the country in total yards.

By the Numbers:

1 There has been ONE team in MAC history to play in a BCS game, that being last year’s Northern Illinois squad that got steamrolled by ACC Champion Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

24 Northern Illinois has won 24 consecutive home games, the longest active streak in the country.

1175 Ball State junior WR Willie Snead ranks third in the FBS in receiving yardage with a career-high 1175.

Aaron Carr is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email adc5230@psu.edu.