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Take 2: More on the line when looking at the big picture

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 if the Toledo game is the toughest of the season.

Jacobson: All eyes were on Northern Illinois for last week's midweek matchup against Ball State. It was a highly anticipated matchup featuring the two best teams in the Mid-American Conference.

But after a 48-27 win, NIU gets another test on the road at Toledo. Is this the toughest game of the season, excluding a potential bowl game, for the Huskies? 

Nitz: I think it's the toughest conference game of the season due to the fact it's on the road. Not only is it away from Huskie Stadium, the game will take place at the Glass Bowl, where NIU is only 3-18 all-time. 

However, the Huskies did go on the road and beat an Iowa team that currently has a 6-4 record while playing in the Big Ten. I'd say that one is NIU's toughest contest of the season, though the Ball State and Toledo games are right up there.

Jacobson: I think it's the toughest game of the season because of the opponent and the situation. When NIU went to Iowa, there was very little pressure on NIU. They were playing with house money. If the Huskies lose to Iowa, there may not be the current BCS bowl talk, but they are still playing for a MAC West championship. 

All of that is on the line against Toledo. There is a lot of pressure on this game in an environment where the Huskies have struggled historically like you mentioned. 

With a victory, NIU clinches its fourth consecutive MAC West title. What would that mean in the bigger picture for NIU?

Nitz: It obviously means the chance at a third straight conference title and second straight BCS bid is still alive, but it would also put the Huskies in the conversation with the Marshall teams of the late 1990s-early 2000s, as far as the best MAC team of all time goes.

Those Thundering Herd teams won four consecutive conference championships from 1997-2000, going unbeaten and finishing No. 11 in the country in 1999.

I'm not sure the Huskies are there yet, but NIU is already the only team to win three straight MAC West championships (the league went to divisions in 1997). If the Huskies win the MAC title, they'll be just the second team to win three consecutive conference titles, joining the Thundering Herd.

Jacobson: This game is going to decide a lot in terms of NIU's 2013 legacy. A win means clearing the next major obstacle to an undefeated season, possibly outperforming what the team accomplished last year on its way to the Orange Bowl.

A loss tonight, however, and this year's NIU team becomes more like 2003. It's a great story, but a rough ending that nobody will want to remember.

There's a lot on the line for NIU tonight and the result, either positive or negative, will likely dictate how we look back at this team down the road.

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