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Archive for Thursday, October 23, 2003

Small stadium, big-time game

Bowling Green-Northern Illinois matchup in MAC attracting national attention

October 23, 2003

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Don't look to college football's traditional cathedrals for this weekend's biggest games.

Notre Dame Stadium, the Horseshoe, the Orange Bowl and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will be empty Saturday. The Big House plays host to a big game in the Big Ten between Michigan and Purdue, but even that's not the most important game of the weekend.

For the big showdown, you need to travel to 28,599-seat Doyt Perry Stadium on the campus of Bowling Green, where the 23rd-ranked Falcons (6-1) will play host to No. 12 Northern Illinois (7-0) for the toughest test remaining in the Huskies' bid for an undefeated season.

This big game in the little Mid-American Conference has caught the country's attention. In a sign of how hyped the game will be, ESPN's "College GameDay" will bring its traveling roadshow to Bowling Green.

"I think, once the game starts, players and coaches get in game mode, and concentration takes over," Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon said. "That enthusiasm lasts for maybe a quarter. Then, you've got to block and tackle. Your skills, techniques and fundamentals take over."

ESPN usually travels to bigger environs, but last year the network went to a Penn-Harvard game and this year it visited South Florida-Army.

With Northern Illinois generating so much interest, the decision for this week's game was an easy one.

"It's the year of the MAC, so why not go see the two best schools in the conference playing each other?" said Mark Gross, ESPN's senior coordinating producer for the show. "It's something different. It's not the same old, same old. These two teams should play a great game."

It's the first time the MAC has two teams in the AP poll since Nov. 5, 1973, when Miami of Ohio was 17th and Kent State was 19th. Bill Mallory's Miami squad beat Don James' Kent team that week en route to an 11-0 record and a 16-7 Tangerine Bowl win over Florida.

Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak, during a game in Evanston, Ill.,
has his team ranked in the Top 25

Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak, during a game in Evanston, Ill., has his team ranked in the Top 25

The Huskies need to win to keep their hopes of playing in a BCS bowl alive. Northern Illinois was 10th in the first BCS standings and needs to remain in the top 12 to be eligible for one of the four major bowls.

"We have five more games to go. If we're undefeated then, let's debate," Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said. "We have so much football left to play, we don't waste time on that now."

The game features two of the more dynamic players in the game: Northern Illinois running back Michael Turner and Bowling Green quarterback Josh Harris.

Turner is the second-leading rusher in the nation at 132.7 yards per game.

"When the ball is in his hands, you hold your breath," Brandon said.

Harris has thrown for 1,847 yards and almost led the Falcons to an upset win at Ohio State this season. This game is even bigger for Harris.

Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon, during a game in Bowling Green,
Ohio, takes his Falcons to play the Huskies Saturday at Bowling
Green.

Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon, during a game in Bowling Green, Ohio, takes his Falcons to play the Huskies Saturday at Bowling Green.

"We need to win the game to secure for another week our hold on the MAC West," Harris said. "Their fans were all loud and rowdy last year and we want that here on Saturday. It's NIU, they beat us last year, and GameDay's coming."

The picks:

No. 1 Oklahoma (minus 25) at Colorado

Buffs play host to No. 1 team for first time in 25 years ... OKLAHOMA 41-10.

UAB (plus 29 1/2) at No. 4 Georgia

Bulldogs get easy nonconference tuneup for Florida ... GEORGIA 37-3.

No. 5 Southern California (minus 10) at Washington

Trojans winless in Seattle since '93 ... USC 27-21.

Wake Forest (plus 18 1/2) at No. 6 Florida State

Bobby Bowden can pass Joe Paterno for most wins ... FLORIDA STATE 31-17.

Oregon State (plus 8) at No. 6 Washington State

Cougars can't look ahead to showdown vs. USC ... WASHINGTON STATE 24-20.

No. 8 Ohio State (minus 20 1/2) at Indiana

Buckeyes looking for first road win ... OHIO STATE 31-13.

No. 17 Auburn (plus 3 1/2) at No. 9 LSU

Auburn plays seventh game against Top 10 team in last 11 ... AUBURN 21-20.

No. 10 Purdue (plus 5) at No. 13 Michigan

Another tough road test for the Boilermakers ... MICHIGAN 28-24.

No. 12 N. Illinois (plus 3 1/2) at No. 23 Bowling Green

Huskies' undefeated run ends ... BOWLING GREEN 27-24.

Iowa State (plus 23 1/2) at No. 14 Nebraska

Huskers 23-2 in last 25 meetings with Cyclones ... NEBRASKA 31-14.

No. 15 TCU (minus 6) at Houston

Horned Frogs have won 17 of 18 overall ... TCU 24-21.

Penn State (plus 10 1/2) at No. 16 Iowa

JoePa looking for first conference win ... IOWA 27-20.

No. 18 Oklahoma State (minus 6) at Texas A&M

High-flying Cowboys can't look ahead to Oklahoma ... OKLAHOMA STATE 34-24.

No. 19 Texas (minus 33) at Baylor

Bears last team to shut out Longhorns -- in 1980 ... TEXAS 42-13.

No. 20 Wisconsin (minus 10 1/2) at Northwestern

Badgers try to bounce back from loss to Purdue ... WISCONSIN 27-10.

No. 21 Arkansas (plus 1) at Mississippi

Eli Manning and Rebels try to stay undefeated in conference ... MISSISSIPPI 27-24.

No. 22 Tennessee (minus 3 1/2) at Alabama

Tide winless at home vs. Volunteers since '91 ... TENNESSEE 24-17.

New Mexico (plus 9) at No. 24 Utah

Utes ranked for first time since '96 ... UTAH 28-14.

Last week: 18-1 (straight); 10-7-1 (vs. points).

Season: 120-32 (straight); 73-68-1 (vs. points).

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