DeKALB – The title doesn't matter when it comes to conference titles or BCS berths.
But it still means something to Northern Illinois fans.
It's not something outrageous or shocking, but here it is – the Huskies, who improved to 8-0 with Saturday's 59-20 win over Eastern Michigan, are the best team in the state of Illinois.
The Fighting Illini? Another disappointing year for a program which will be clawing to make a bowl game. At the end of the season, people down in Champaign may be longing for the Ron Zook era. The Illinois offense everyone fawned over the first few weeks of the season managed only 137 yards of total offense in Saturday's loss to Michigan State, which dropped the Illini to 3-4.
NIU had two players with more yards than that today – quarterback Jordan Lynch had 339 yards and wide receiver Tommylee Lewis finished with 205.
Northwestern is in the middle of a tailspin, as the Wildcats suffered a 17-10 loss at Iowa Saturday afternoon. Yes, the same Iowa team NIU beat Week 1. It's the fourth consecutive loss for the Wildcats, who are winless in Big Ten play.
In fact, Illinois and Northwestern are a combined 0-7 in Big Ten competition, while the Huskies are 2-0 against the Big Ten.
Now, some of you may be saying, haven't the Huskies been the best team in the state? I wouldn't have agreed with this statement last season, considering Northwestern finished 10-3 and five spots ahead of NIU in the final Associated Press Poll. Northwestern also beat Iowa in 2012, the only team to defeat the Huskies in the regular season.
Nine weeks into the 2013 season however, it's not very close.
Three weeks ago, when Northwestern went into its game against Ohio State unbeaten and took the Buckeyes to the wire, I would have argued for the Wildcats as the best squad in the Land of Lincoln.
After Northwestern's four-game losing streak, there's no debate on which FBS team owns the state of Illinois. The Wildcats losing to Iowa, the same team NIU beat earlier, is the kicker. And both games came at Kinnick Stadium.
Now, what does this mean in the grand scheme of things?
It probably helps in recruiting to a certain extent.
There's a chance the Huskies could be matched up with one of either Illinois or Northwestern should NIU find its way to the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, if either Big Ten team is bowl-eligible.
For now, NIU fans have their sights set on the BCS. The Huskies will get their shot at the Wildcats in Evanston next season, even though it will be a Lynch-less NIU squad.
In 2013, NIU owns the bragging rights among the state's three FBS programs. It's a bit of glory a lot of Huskie fans certainly enjoy basking in.
Steve Nitz is the Daily Chronicle's NIU beat writer. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @SNitz_DDC.