DETROIT – One is larger than 12.
It took just a single bad Friday night to overshadow all that Northern Illinois had built over the previous three months in a 47-27 loss to Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game on Friday.
Fiesta Bowl dreams dashed. Third consecutive MAC title, gone. Undefeated season, over. Jordan Lynch’s trip to New York, likely no more.
It was an unimaginable way for NIU’s regular season to finish and for the Huskies’ lofty postseason hopes to come crashing down. Bowling Green seemingly did whatever it wanted on offense, gashing NIU’s secondary with big play after big play in the passing game.
Apparently, NIU coach Rod Carey was right, Bowling Green certainly looked like the best team the Huskies had played all season.
Going through an entire year without a loss never is easy, no matter the perceived strength of schedule or conference affiliation. There’s a reason college football’s regular season is the most unpredictable in sports and the state of a conference race or national championship picture can change in an instant
Ask Alabama, which lost to Auburn last week.
Talk to Oregon, a consensus favorite to get to the national championship before November falls at Stanford and Arizona.
Even ask Fresno State, which was the frontrunner to earn the Bowl Championship Series non-AQ spot until its tumble at San Jose State last week.
The BCS talks weren’t a distraction or a factor in Friday’s loss. How could they be when NIU players weren’t allowed to talk to any media before Thursday’s mandated news conference?
Bowling Green simply possessed the formula to beat NIU. They caught the Huskies on an off night and executed almost to perfection when the previous 12 NIU opponents before them had so often folded in pressure situations with chances to win.
The upset bug finally bit NIU after the Huskies had avoided it time and time again with comeback victories and consistent second-half dominance.
The 12 victories – tying the program record set during last year’s run to the Orange Bowl – NIU has accumulated this season won’t disappear. And as Carey pointed out in the postgame news conference, a chance will be had to get to 13 with a victory in a bowl game, assuming NIU remains motivated enough to compete after a trip to Detroit, Mobile or Boise when Phoenix was so clearly the dream destination.
But the one loss now looms even larger for NIU and forever will be the lasting memory of a 2013 season that unfortunately will be remembered more for what could’ve been than what was.
• Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @RossJacobson.