Early Analysis: Northern Illinois vs. Kent State

 

No. 21 Northern Illinois vs. No. 17 Kent State
Friday, 7:00 PM EST, ESPN 2
Line: Northern Illinois -6

If someone had offered you a bet that the Mid-American Conference championship game would have national significance, you would have probably taken the other side of that bet.

You also would have lost this year, as a lot is at stake on Friday evening at Ford Field in Detroit, as the Northern Illinois Huskies (11-1, 8-0 MAC West) take on the surprising Kent State Golden Flashes (11-1, 8-0 MAC East).

Not only is the Mid-American Conference title on the line, but also a BCS bid. Yes, that’s right; a BCS bid.

There is a clause that allows for a team from a non-automatic qualifying league to receive an automatic bid if that team finishes ranked in the top 16 in the final BCS standings and finish ahead of the champion of an automatic qualifying league. Louisville, who won the Big East’s automatic BCS bid via winning the Big East on Thursday night, is currently unranked in the BCS standings, and most likely will stay behind the winner of this game.

So, for the first time ever, a MAC school has a chance to compete on the big stage for millions of dollars. Which team will it be, and what will it take for them to win the game?

For Northern Illinois to win: Protect the football. Kent State is currently one of the two best teams in the country in turnover margin at +20, tied with Kansas State. They have forced 35 turnovers, which is good for second in the nation behind only Oregon. Northern Illinois has done a decent job of protecting the ball this season, only losing the ball 15 times. But the Huskies are going to have to be even better at shielding the football if they want to head off to a BCS bowl.

For Kent State to win: Find success through the air. The Golden Flashes are a top 15 running team, rushing for 241.5 yards per game (which is actually less than Northern Illinois averages per game). However, Kent State is near the bottom in passing offense, ranking 115 out of 124 teams at 160.7 yards per game. Kent doesn’t need to come out and wing it around like an Air Raid team, but since Northern Illinois knows what they want to do, and are also successful at rushing the ball, the Golden Flashes need to use the element of surprise and take to the air when the opportunities present themselves.

Key Player, Northern Illinois: Jordan Lynch, quarterback. The junior from Chicago has been nothing short of outstanding this season, serving as the spark that drives the offense for the Huskies. Lynch has thrown for 2,750 yards and 23 touchdowns against only four interceptions, and also has rushed for 1,611 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has been a one man wrecking crew on the ground, rushing for 100 yards or more in ten straight games. He is third in total offense in the nation and is the man that the Golden Flashes will have to stop.

Key Player, Kent State: Traiyon Durham, running back. The sophomore from Cincinnati is the thunder to Dri Archer’s lighting. The running back tandem has combined for 2,572 yards and 28 touchdowns, powering the Golden Flashes ground attack. Durham as the bruising back is the key, and he is suffering from a bit of a hip issue. Archer also has a nagging ankle problem, so their health will determine just how successful the Golden Flashes will be in this game.

Key Stat: 1972. Northern Illinois is no stranger to the postseason, having appeared in the last two MAC championship games, going 1-1 the last two years. The postseason has been more elusive for Kent State, as they will be going to their first postseason game in 40 years. The Golden Flashes have not been to a bowl game since 1972’s Tangerine Bowl.  

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