DeKALB – When the two major college football polls came out Sunday, Northern Illinois finally was listed.
NIU has reached the coveted Top 25, with the Huskies currently ranked No. 24 in The Associated Press’ poll and 23rd in the USA Today coaches poll. NIU, which has won 10 consecutive games, had been receiving votes for five weeks.
“It means a lot. From a team coming from the [Mid-American Conference] that’s been successful over the last couple years, it’s a tremendous, tremendous privilege to be ranked,” NIU senior cornerback Rashaan Melvin said during Monday’s news conference at the Yordon Center. “But we still have to play football; we still have to play our game.”
It’s the first time NIU has been in the Top 25 since Week 14 in 2010, before the Huskies were upset by Miami (Ohio) in the MAC Championship Game. In 2004, NIU spent two weeks ranked in the coaches poll, and was ranked for several weeks in 2003, getting as high as 12th in the AP poll and 14th in the coaches poll.
By belonging to a non-automatic qualifying conference such as the MAC, getting into the national rankings can be an uphill climb. After a season-opening, one-point loss to Iowa, the Huskies have climbed the mountain.
“To finally be ranked, that’s huge for us,” NIU sophomore linebacker Jamaal Bass said. “To finally show all the hard work we put in, to actually get noticed.”
While the recognition is nice for now, the Huskies still have three games to play. First up is a 2-9 Eastern Michigan team Friday in Ypsilanti, Mich. Then it’s the MAC Championship Game in Detroit against Kent State, which is ranked 23rd in the AP poll, followed by a bowl game.
If the Huskies win out, they should become the first NIU team to end the season in the Top 25. The Huskies finished 26th in the coaches poll in 2010 and 2011.
Two years ago, NIU had a great shot to end the season ranked. The tough loss against Miami at Ford Field changed that, despite the Huskies’ win over Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl.
“There’s a lot of things you talk to the players about when it comes to leaving your legacy,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said. “I think that’s important. When you’re a competitor, you want to try to always do something that hasn’t been done before.”
A 3-0 record to end the season also would give the Huskies 13 victories. The program never has won more than 11 games in a season.
However, right now, Doeren is worried about Eastern Michigan, saying he’s got a five-hour bus ride home from Ypsilanti on Friday to think about the Huskies’ next opponent.
“Obviously to get to [12 or 13 wins], we have to win this week,” he said. “So, to look ahead, I think you lose out on something as far as leaving your legacy. And that’s something we’re not going to do. We’re going to make sure that all of our guys, our coaches, are focused on Eastern Michigan.”