DeKALB – Northern Illinois is one of only four Football Bowl Subdivision teams to have played only one home game this season.
The Huskies have played in two Big Ten venues, had a long trip to Idaho and a short flight to Ohio for the Mid-American Conference opener at Kent State.
Playing at Huskie Stadium might almost seem weird at this point. There won’t be any packing, charter buses or airports.
Awaiting No. 23 NIU today at Huskie Stadium will be what is expected to be a packed house when the Huskies take on 1-5 Akron, which is winless in MAC play. The school officially announced Saturday’s game as a sellout, which would mark the second straight game the place has been full. The official attendance for the home opener against Eastern Illinois was 23,595.
“I’m really excited about it, I really am,” NIU football coach Rod Carey said. “I know with the atmosphere we had in that first game, I know our players are so excited to be here because we have a home-field advantage and we’re going to need that on Saturday.”
A win this afternoon would be NIU’s 23rd consecutive victory at Huskie Stadium, which would be a MAC record.
The win over EIU was the only victory during the streak that was played in front of a sellout crowd, as NIU’s last sellout was against Maryland in 2003.
NIU defensive end Jason Meehan called the crowd a 12th man.
“They share the same emotion with you. When you’re doing well, they’re up and they’re pumping you up to do well,” he said. “When the other team’s up, they kind of make it tougher for them to play. It helps us a lot.”
Last season, former NIU coach Dave Doeren mentioned how much it would mean to have NIU’s students show up in full force.
Doeren didn’t get to experience the sellout crowd he had hoped for, but Carey and the current group of players have, and will get to experience at least one more.
After the team’s first home win this season, the players went over to the student section to salute the crowd that filled up the east side of Huskie Stadium to the top.
The team has celebrated with the fans after road wins at Iowa and Purdue this year, and Meehan said he doesn’t see why the team won’t keep doing it.
“We’re real happy they’re coming out, so I imagine we will,” he said. “We love to see people come out and stay for the whole game.”
Huskies center Andrew Ness said the packed houses in DeKalb also can help NIU in recruiting.
“I remember getting recruited and seeing a lot of fans at places and being like. ‘Man, I want to go here,’ ” he said. “Having a lot of fans ... .it just helps make the program better.”
FIVE STORYLINES TO WATCH
1. Running back We saw what Cameron Stingily can do last week, running for 266 yards. However, Keith Harris Jr. may not be available. Giorgio Bowers left the team prior to the Purdue game, which means junior James Spencer is the backup at tailback. He had six carries for 42 yards against Kent State. Don't be surprised if the Huskies use true freshman tailback Jordan Huff.
2. Turnovers The Huskies have forced 15 turnovers so far. Can they keep this up? Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl is in his first year as a starter and has thrown seven picks. NIU should be able to force him to make at least one or two mistakes.
3. Home crowd It's homecoming, and there's expected to be a packed house. NIU has won 22 straight games at Huskie Stadium, and a 23rd straight victory would be a MAC record. How will the Huskies feed off the home fans?
4. Style points NIU is in the Top 25, and let's be honest, beating teams by wide margin helps impress voters. Should the Huskies and fellow unbeaten Fresno State keep winning, we're going to hear a lot of talk about one of them going to the BCS. In a game like this, NIU could easily put up a crooked number. A win over a lowly Zips team isn't very impressive. A 30- or 40-point victory? Maybe it sways a few voters in the Coaches Poll.
5. Jawon Chisholm NIU is giving up 164.8 rushing yards per game this year. Expect Akron to give a good number of touches to senior Jawon Chisholm. Kent State ran for 147 yards against NIU last week.
– Steve Nitz, firstname.lastname@example.org