A MAC in the face
10-2 Northern Illinois stuck at home for the holidays
Posted: Monday December 8, 2003 6:37PM; Updated: Monday December 8, 2003 6:37PM
CHICAGO (AP) -- This was one upset Northern Illinois could not pull off.
As the final bowl pairings emerged, Huskies coach Joe Novak held out a sliver of hope his team would somehow find a place in college football's postseason.
But even with a 10-2 record and a non-conference win over No. 23 Maryland, Northern Illinois woke up Monday to the harsh reality that its season is officially over.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we have one of the best 56 teams in the country," Novak said. "I don't think a .500 team should get in over a team that won 10 games. Are you telling me they had a better season than us? Baloney."
Northern Illinois opened the season with wins over Maryland, Alabama and Iowa State, and climbed to No. 12 in the rankings. The Huskies even made an appearance at No. 10 in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
It all unraveled with a pair of Mid-American Conference losses.
After losing to Bowling Green and Toledo, Northern Illinois fell out of the Top 25.
"That's where the system is really unfair," said Novak, whose team went 8-4 last season and also missed out on a bowl. "It's time to look at this thing and make it better. We need to structure it so a team with 10 wins gets in. You can't tell me we shouldn't be in."
Only two teams from the MAC are guaranteed bowl slots, and those went to Miami of Ohio and Bowling Green.
The Huskies had hoped wins over teams from three of the major conferences -- the Big 12, the SEC and the ACC -- would make them more attractive to bowl-selection committees. They also boasted the nation's second-leading rusher in senior Michael Turner, who ran for 1,648 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Initially, the Fort Worth Bowl seemed like a possibility for an at-large bid. The Huskies were one of six teams under consideration for the game. They ultimately were passed over for No. 18 Boise State and No. 19 Texas Christian.
Novak said Northern Illinois had an outside chance at the Motor City Bowl. But that spot went to Bowling Green, which beat Northern Illinois 34-18.
"If they had wanted us to play on a paved street in the middle of nowhere, we would have gone," quarterback Josh Haldi said. "That's what college football is all about -- playing in a bowl game."
MAC teams with 10 wins have been left out before.
Miami of Ohio missed out on the Las Vegas Bowl after going 10-1 in 1998. The bid went to North Carolina, a team that was 6-5 and had lost to Miami to start the season.
In 2000, Toledo finished 10-1 record and ranked 25th but failed to make a bowl game.
"We're awful disappointed. We played a strong schedule. We're a good team," Novak said. "We've accomplished things at this school that have never been accomplished. To have a chance to take it even further another notch would have been nice."