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TAKE 2: Who’d be better foe for NIU?

Daily Chronicle sports editor Ross Jacobson and sports reporter Steve Nitz spend their days covering the area’s sports scene. Occasionally, they give their viewpoints on those local sports. In this installment of their Take 2 column, they discuss the Northern Illinois football program’s scheduling strategy.

Nitz: A lot of NIU fans have been wondering why Idaho was on the 2013 schedule since the series was announced in 2011. The teams were supposed to meet next season at Huskie Stadium, but that contest has been moved to 2018.

I like that NIU schedules other non-AQ school like themselves, and I believe it will be especially important with the “Group of Five” getting an automatic bid into a major bowl game next season. However, I’m not sure what Idaho, a program with nine wins over the past three seasons, brings to the table, other than what should be a guaranteed win. I say this knowing the Vandals are the last team to beat NIU at Huskie Stadium in 2009.

My question is what other non-AQ schools would you like to see NIU play?

Jacobson: I grew up around a football team that, at the time, supported the “play anywhere, any time, any place” mantra, so I would like to see a future matchup with Fresno State. I think both programs are in similar positions and, to me, this would set up like a football version of “Bracket Busters.” These are two of the top mid-major teams battling for a potential BCS berth this year and could be down the road as both have shown the ability to sustain that success. 

Nitz: I agree. Starting next season when there could be four to five teams fighting for a major bowl berth, a win would be huge for either side.

I’m going to start with Boise State, Central Florida and Tulsa. All three have been strong in recent memory. They would provide a bonus to NIU’s strength of schedule and quality games in addition to putting people in the seats. BYU is another program with a storied history (the last non-AQ national champion in 1984) that would be a great opponent, although the Cougars are an independent now, so they aren’t exactly a right answer to this question.

NIU fans aren’t going to look forward to watching the Idahos of the world.

Jacobson: Ideally, I think NIU should try to schedule one Big Ten or BCS team, two mid-majors and one guaranteed home game against an FCS opponent for its four nonconference games each year. That setup provides a fair balance between difficulty and attracting fans to Huskie Stadium. Usually mid-majors have to run the table in the regular season to receive a BCS bid. Last year’s Orange Bowl bid was an anomaly. Playing two opponents from big conferences each season is just too difficult. 

Nitz: The thing is, financially, NIU needs those games against BCS schools, so I certainly understand why the Huskies usually have two each year. Plus, starting next season with the Group of Five getting an automatic bid, you’re going to see some one-loss teams earn major bowl spots here and there.

In a perfect world, I’d like to see the Huskies play two BCS schools and two non-AQ programs and skip the FCS team. However, I’m fine with two BCS opponents (though hopefully we’ll see more BCS teams visit Huskie Stadium), an FCS and a non-AQ/independent.

However, recent non-AQ opponents Idaho, Army and Navy don’t do it for me, or your average NIU fan. I’m certainly interested to see what new athletic director Sean Frazier does when it comes to scheduling, and how the new College Football Playoff changes the landscape.

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