NITZ: This might be the best of NIU’s best

Ypsilanti, Mich. – In the summer, I put up a simple poll on Huskiewire.com.

It was a fun question: Which team is the best in NIU history? The options were the 1983 squad, which won the school’s first Mid-American Conference championship; last year’s conference champions; the 2010 team that should have won a league title two years ago; and the 2003 squad that went 10-2 and spent eight weeks ranked in The Associated Press’ Top 25.

At the time the poll was posted, I probably would have went with the 2003 team, with its impressive nonconference wins over Maryland, Alabama and Iowa State. Not to mention that year was an extremely strong season in the MAC.

When this season concludes, I might have to change my tune when it comes to the best Huskie team to step on the field. This year’s NIU team, which came into Friday’s 49-7 win at Eastern Michigan ranked No. 24 in the AP poll and 23rd in the USA Today coaches poll, has a shot to take that title.

Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself too much. Kent State, ranked No. 23 in the AP poll, is a really good team, although I would expect the Huskies to enter the MAC Championship Game as small favorites. NIU was a much better team than Miami (Ohio) in 2010, and we saw what happened then. Of course, then there’s the bowl game.

The bottom line is NIU has a chance to accomplish something special this season. Winning 13 consecutive games, which will be the nation’s longest winning streak if Notre Dame loses to either USC or falls in the BCS title game. That’s just one big accomplishment NIU has a chance at obtaining.

Should the Huskies run the table, winning in Detroit and taking home a victory in the bowl game, they should end the season ranked in the Top 25, and would be the first team in school history to notch that feat. The 2010 team had a shot at being ranked to end the year, but blew its chance in the MAC Championship Game, partly because the infamous fluke fourth-and-20 pass by Miami.

There’s nothing right now that says this year’s team shouldn’t be considered the best of the best Huskie teams, should it win out. NIU lights up the scoreboard at will, while the defense, which came into Friday’s game ranked 20th in the nation in scoring defense, is extremely underrated.

Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann’s group was solid yet again Friday, limiting the Eagles to 227 yards of total offense and bottling up running back Bronson Hill, who came into the contest averaging 6.8 yards a carry. He was held to just 2.6 yards a rush.

The defense is a far cry from what Huskie fans saw a lot of times last season.

But the defense is just one positive aspect of the Huskies season, which has the chance to be monumental.

I’m obviously not ready to anoint this team as the unofficial best team in NIU history – yet. However, the Huskies are well on their way.

• Steve Nitz is the Northern Illinois beat writer for the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at snitz@shawmedia.com.

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