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DeKALB — The game has stood out on Northern Illinois' schedule for awhile now.
After Saturday's 63-0 win over Massachusetts, the Huskies can finally look ahead to the contest Wednesday, Nov. 14 — NIU vs. Toledo. Both teams are unbeaten in Mid-American Conference play. The Huskies and Rockets are getting votes in both major polls.
With a victory a week from Wednesday, NIU will claim its third straight MAC West title. Not only will whoever wins the game most likely be headed to Detroit, I fully expect NIU to end up ranked in both polls should the Huskies pull out a victory.
At the start of the season, I picked NIU to win the MAC West when I filled out my preseason poll. I actually had Western Michigan in second and the Rockets third. The rest of the media didn't agree with me, as Toledo took the poll's top spot.
I thought the Huskies were the favorite back in July, and my opinion's still the same. The Huskies are the best team not only in the MAC West, but the entire conference. I expect NIU to come out to Huskie Stadium Nov. 14 and beat the Rockets.
If NIU beats Toledo Nov. 14, I fully expect the Huskies to go to Ford Field and beat the MAC East winner, whether its Ohio, Kent State or Bowling Green.
Most of the question marks this team had heading into the season have been answered. Jordan Lynch hasn't just matched the 2011 version of Chandler Harnish — he's been better. The offensive line has been way above expectations. The defense, which struggled last season but looked like it would be a strength heading into the year, has been solid.
Saturday, the group gave up just 267 yards to UMass and forced four turnovers.
Maybe seeing the Huskies wallop teams like Buffalo, Akron, an Alex Carder-less Western Michigan squad and a UMass team competing in its first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision doesn't impress you.
At the same time, NIU has made sure those games weren't even contests. Saturday, the Huskies obliterated the 35-point spread. NIU got the over/under total of 58 points by itself.
After watching his team get dominated in every aspect of Saturday's football game, Minutemen head coach Charley Molnar said the Huskies are just as good as every team he's gone up against this season, which includes Michigan.
"Arguably, they're right there with the best teams that we've played," Molnar said. "You could make the point that they're as good as Michigan. They're really good in a lot of ways."
Ten games into the season, Toledo looks like NIU's toughest opponent on the schedule. I don't think this NIU is a top 25 team yet — the Huskies don't have a real signature win. A win over the Rockets would give NIU a key victory.
In a game which should be on ESPN2, the whole country will get to see how good NIU actually is.