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Take 2: Ball State, Toledo NIU's top threats in MAC West

Published: Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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 NIU's competition in the MAC West.

Nitz: Mid-American Conference play is underway and Northern Illinois has its first MAC West opponent of the year Saturday, as the Huskies head up to Central Michigan. NIU sits pretty at 2-0 in the conference, a half game behind MAC West leader Ball State, which is 3-0. Toledo and Central Michigan are tied for third at 2-1.  NIU was picked to win the MAC West in the league's preseason poll, and I was one of the voters that picked the Huskies. With MAC play underway, do you still feel NIU is the favorite?

Jacobson: Nothing has changed for me. Until proven otherwise, NIU is the pick. The Huskies haven't consistently played their best this season as evidenced by close games against Idaho, Eastern Illinois and Akron, but they have risen to the challenge for the more "marquee" games of Iowa and Purdue. NIU's best is better than any other MAC team.

Ball State seems like the obvious challenger to NIU's three-year MAC West throne, but the Cardinals have to come to Huskie Stadium in November and we know how big of a challenge it's been for teams to win in DeKalb in recent years. 

Nitz: I agree. However, Ball State is right there with the Huskies. Don't forget about Toledo either. The Rockets' three losses have been against Missouri, Florida and Ball State. I know Toledo already has a loss in conference, but the Rockets could easily be a factor in the MAC West at the end of the season. Luckily for them, they get NIU at the Glass Bowl. 

Is the West Division a three-team race, or can a team like Central Michigan cause some havoc?

Jacobson: No, plain and simple. Central Michigan got a nice victory at Ohio last week, but the Chippewas haven't scored more than 26 points in a game all season. NIU's lowest output is 27. Rest easy NIU fans, P.J. Fleck's Western Michigan squad won't be making any noise either. They may not win a game this season.

NIU will determine the fate of the MAC West by its level of play and its health. We've seen injuries decimate the running back position, but Cameron Stingily has emerged and Jordan Lynch, an 1,800-yard rusher last year, still remains as an obvious threat. As long as NIU's offensive line remains healthy and Jordan Lynch doesn't miss any time, the division and the conference are NIU's to lose. 

Nitz: The Chippewas impressed me with their win in Athens, and maybe they can pull off one upset in conference play. However, I'm still calling the MAC West a three-team race. The Rockets can still win the division, should they win out. 

If NIU were to beat Ball State on Nov. 13 and the Huskies, Cardinals and Rockets finish the season with one loss, Toledo would most likely win the division based on the strength of schedule tiebreaker. The Rockets get Bowling Green in a crossover while the East Division games for NIU and Ball State are ridiculously easy.

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