Dec. 20, 2013
2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Utah State Aggies (8-5, 7-1 MWC) vs. No. 23 NIU Huskies (12-1, 8-0 MAC)
Dec. 26, 2013|8:30 p.m. (CT)| ESPN | San Diego, Calif. |Qualcomm Stadium| 71,500
-- 2013 NIU NUMBERS TO KNOW --
1 - FBS teams with MORE wins than NIU
2 - Wins over Big Ten teams
2 - Victories over 10-win teams
7 - 2013 road wins*
15 - Consecutive road wins*
26 - Consecutive wins at Huskie Stadium*
46 - Wins over last four seasons* *Leads the Nation (FBS)
-- ACTIVE STREAKS --
WINS AT HOME STADIUM
-- TOP DOGS --
***NIU enters the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl with national rankings of No. 22 (Harris), 23 (USA Today Coaches) and 24 (Associated Press) and were 23rd in the final BCS poll.
***The Huskies are coming off their only loss of the season, a 47-27 defeat to Bowling Green in the Marathon MAC Championship game in Detroit on Dec. 6.
***NIU has spent 11 weeks in the Top 25 in at least one poll in 2013, a school-record, and has been in the BCS standings each week.
***The 2013 Huskies are attempting to become the first NIU team to win 13 games in a season.
***NIU is the ONLY FBS team with SEVEN road wins.
***NIU became the FIRST MAC team to defeat TWO Big Ten teams in the same regular season with wins over Iowa and Purdue.
***Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch leads a Huskie offense that set the MAC and NIU all-time rushing record and averages 41.6 points per game.
***The 2013 Huskies posted the school's first undefeated regular season as a major college program.
***NIU is 4-4 in bowl games as a major college program and the Poinsettia Bowl is its MAC record sixth straight bowl appearance.
***The Huskies have won 24 of their last 26 games and are 46-9 since 2010.
***The Huskies will enter 2014 with a 26-game winning streak in their home stadium, longest in the nation.
***NIU's 15-game road winning streak is the longest in the FBS.
***NIU head coach Rod Carey is 12-2 since taking over prior to the Huskies' bowl game a year ago.
-- Jordan Lynch FOR 6--
The only player in the nation who is the number one option for his team as a passer and as a runner made history on Dec. 14 when he finished third in the balloting for the 2013 Heisman Trophy to achieve the highest finish by a Mid-American Conference player. He tied the highest place for a player from a non-automatic qualifying conference in the BCS era. Lynch, who accounts for 65% of the NIU offense with 1,881 rushing and 2,676 passing yards and 46 touchdowns this season, is 24-3 as the Huskies' starting QB in two years. Second in the country in the rushing yards this season and the NCAA all-time quarterback rushing leader, he ranks third all-time at NIU in rushing, behind Huskie greats Garrett Wolfe and Michael Turner.See his bio in this release, check out his highlights and more atwww.LynchFor6.com.
HUSKIE FOOTBALL FACTS
Head Coach:Rod Carey
Record at NIU & Career Record/Years:12-2/1st
First Year of Football:1899
Last Bowl Game:2013 Discover Orange Bowl (Florida State 31, NIU 10)
Consecutive Bowl Games:6
All-Time Bowl Record:5-8
Major College Bowl Record:4-4
MAC Championships:3 (1983, 2011, 2012)
MAC Championship Games:5
NORTHERN ILLINOIS FACTS
Location: DeKalb, Illinois
Affiliation: NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision
Conference: Mid-American (West Division)
Colors: Cardinal and Black
Stadium: Brigham Field at Huskie Stadium
Surface/Capacity: FieldTurf /24,000
President: Dr. Douglas D. Baker
Assoc. VP/Athletic Director: Sean Frazier
Alma Mater, Year: Alabama `92
Ticket Information: 815-753-PACK (7225)
Twitter:@NIUAthletics, @Lynchfor6, @PrideinthePack, @NIUscores
Facebook:NIU Huskies, Northern Illinois Football
NIU 2013 RESULTS
UTAH STATE AGGIES FACTS
2013 Record/Conference Record:8-5/7-1
2012 Record/WAC Record/Finish:11-2/6-0/First
Head Coach: Matt Wells
Alma Mater/Year:Utah State `96
Record at USU/Year:8-5/1st
Conference:Mountain West (Mountain)
Colors:Navy Blue, White and Pewter Grey
Stadium:Merlin Olsen Field at Romney Stadium
Surface/Capacity:AstroTurf Gameday Grass/25,513
Athletic Director:Scott Barnes
USU 2013 RESULTS
NIU-USU SERIES HISTORY
Overall:USU leads 1-0
In Logan:USU leads 1-0
Streak:Utah State, 1
First/Last Meeting: Oct. 14, 1995; USU 42, NIU 7 (A)
NIU HEAD COACH Rod Carey
Promoted to head coach prior to the 2013 Orange Bowl after serving as NIU's offensive coordinator during most of the 2012 season, Rod Carey led the Huskies to their first undefeated regular season of the modern era in his first campaign as NIU's head coach and was named the 2013 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year. He was also a semifinalist for the Maxwell Football Club National Coach of the Year honor. The 42-year-old Carey coached the NIU offensive line in 2011 before adding coordinator duties a year ago. On the same day Carey was introduced as head coach last December, the Huskies made history as the first Mid-American Conference team invited to a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game. Carey coached NIU in the Orange Bowl, a 31-10 loss to Florida State. In 2013, Carey has led NIU to a 12-1 record and a No. 23 BCS national ranking. NIU tied its school record with 12 straight wins as Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch leads a record-breaking offense. Carey is the first NIU or MAC coach to win two Big Ten games in a season. Carey spent his first two seasons at NIU helping guide two of the most prolific offenses in school history as the Huskies won back-to-back MAC championships and 11-or-more games each year. In 2012, he added run game coordinator to his duties as offensive line coach. In the midst of replacing five starters on the offensive line, Carey assumed offensive coordinator duties after the season opener. Two of his 2011 players, center Scott Wedige and left tackle Trevor Olson, earned All-America honors. A three-year starter at center for Indiana, Carey served as a team captain and won the Corby Davis Outstanding Offensive Player Award as a senior, playing for former NIU head coach Bill Mallory. He earned his bachelor's degree from IU in 1994. Carey came to NIU after three seasons as the offensive line coach at North Dakota. His line paved the way for UND 1,000-yard rusher Josh Murray (1,146 yards) in 2008 and for the No. 2 running back in the Great West Conference a year later. Five of Carey's offensive linemen earned GWC all-conference honors in his last three seasons. Prior to going to North Dakota, Carey spent the 2007 season as the offensive line coach at Illinois State. From 2000-06, Carey coached at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where he was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. His offensive units averaged nearly 400 yards per game during his seven seasons and set 14 records, including the all-time conference rushing record. In all, Carey coached 26 all-conference selections and seven All-Americans at UW-Stout. A native of Wayzata, Minn., Carey began his collegiate coaching career at the University of Minnesota (1998-99) where he helped the Gophers to the 1999 Sun Bowl. Prior to UM, he spent four seasons at his alma mater, Wayzata (Minn.) High, from 1994-97. Carey and his wife Tonya are the parents of daughter Kennedi (8) and son Charlie (6).
FOLLOW THE HUSKIES
ESPN to Televise 2013 Poinsettia Bowl
- The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl will air nationally on ESPN.
Joe Davis will handle the play-by-play call of the game with Mike Bellotti as the color analyst and Cara Capuano on the sidelines.
- The game is also available on WatchESPN and on ESPN3 in both English and Spanish. - The post-game trophy presentation with the winning team will also be live on ESPN3.
- NIU will appear on an ESPN over-the-air network for the fifth consecutive game and sixth time this season.
ESPN Radio to Carry NIU-Utah State Nationally
- The Poinsettia Bowl match-up will air nationally on stations across the country on ESPN Radio.
- Bill Rosinski will handle the radio play-by-play call of the game with David Norrie as the color analyst and Joe Schad on the sidelines.
- Check your local listings for the ESPN Radio outlet in your area.
NIU-IMG Radio Network
- The Northern Illinois IMG Sports Network broadcast begins at 8 p.m. CT, 30 minutes before kickoff.
- NIU network affiliates that will carry the bowl game are WLBK 1360 AM and 98.9 FM (DeKalb), WTJK 1380 AM (Janesville, Wis.) and WSCR AM 670 (Chicago).
- ESPN Radio owns the rights to the national broadcast, therefore the game will NOT be available online via NIUTube.
- Play-by-play man Bill Baker completes his 34th season as the Voice of the Huskies and is joined by 28-year color analyst Mark Lindo and Andy Garcia, who is in his first season on the sidelines.
Poinsettia Bowl Central on NIUHuskies.com
- Poinsettia Bowl Central on NIUHuskies.com is the online home for all of the latest information on the Huskies' trip to San Diego.
- The page includes links to buy tickets to the game or pre-game reception, check the weather, visit the bowl and San Diego official websites.
- You can also check out the latest video, Facebook and Twitter reports from the team's trip to California.
NIUTube (formerly Huskie All-Access)
- Hear all NIU live radio broadcasts, including the Poinsettia Bowl game, men's and women's basketball games and NIU radio shows.
- Watch live Huskie games and see weekly and post-game press conferences, video features and more.
- Cost is $6.95/month or $49.95/year.
- Go towww.NIUHuskies.com/allaccess.
- Twitter: @NIUAthletics, @NIUScores, @PrideinthePack
- Facebook: NIU Huskies, Northern Illinois Football, Jordan Lynch for 6
- YouTube: niuhuskiesdotcom
- See NIU Athletics' social media hub online to see all of our coaches' and teams' Facebook and Twitter accounts.
NIU NEWS & NOTES, BOWL EDITION
BACK IN A BOWL: NIU will end its season in a bowl game for the sixth consecutive year when the No. 23 (BCS) Huskies take on Mountain West runner-up Utah State in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 26 at Qualcomm Stadium. The Huskies (12-1, 8-0 MAC) and Aggies (8-5, 7-1 MWC) are looking to erase the memories of losses in their championship games in their last outings. The SDCCU Poinsettia Bowl kicks off at8:30 p.m. (CT)on ESPN.
HUSKIES IN BOWLS: NIU will play in its ninth bowl game as a Division I FBS program and its 14th bowl all-time with this year's trip to the Poinsettia Bowl. The Huskies' current string of six consecutive bowl appearances is a Mid-American Conference record. Northern Illinois has also played in a bowl game in eight of the last 10 seasons dating back to a 2004 appearance in the Silicon Valley Classic. NIU is 4-4 (FBS) and 5-8 overall in bowl games. Its modern bowl history began in 1983 at the California Bowl under head coach Bill Mallory.
SPANNING THE GLOBE: Northern Illinois' current string of consecutive bowl appearances began in 2008 when the Huskies faced Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. and continued in Toronto, Canada (International Bowl), Boise, Idaho (Humanitarian Bowl) and Mobile, Ala. (GoDaddy.com Bowl) where the Huskies closed out the 2009-11 campaigns versus South Florida, Fresno State and Arkansas State, respectively. Last year, NIU earned a historic appearance in the Discover Orange Bowl versus Florida State.
RETURN TRIP: After falling to No. 25 TCU, 37-7, in the 2006 Poinsettia Bowl, the Huskies' return to the San Diego game marks the first time NIU has played in the same bowl twice as an FBS program. The 1962, 1963 and 1965 Northern Illinois College Division teams all played in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Mo.
RECORD CHANCE: NIU posted its first undefeated regular season as a "Major College" program (since 1969) with a 12-0 mark in 2013, tying the 2012 Huskies for most consecutive wins along the way. This year's team has a chance to set the school record for most wins in a season as no Northern Illinois squad has ever won 13 games.
AT THE HELM: Rod Carey is the third NIU modern era head coach to lead the team in two bowl games. After making his head coaching debut a year ago in the Discover Orange Bowl, Carey joins Joe Novak (2004 Silicon Valley and 2006 Poinsettia) and Jerry Kill(2008 Independence and 2009 International) with that distinction. The former NIU offensive line coach and offensive coordinator looks to become the fifth head coach to win a bowl game at Northern Illinois.
THE BEST: Since the start of the 2010 season, no FBS team in the country has won more games than NIU. Northern Illinois has won 46 games (under three head coaches) over the past four seasons and is tied with Alabama, Oregon and Stanford for the most wins in the country over that time. NIU is 46-9, while the Crimson Tide and Ducks are 46-6 and Stanford is 46-7.
SERIES SUMMARY: The Huskies and Aggies meet for just the second time, and that 1995 meeting in Logan marked NIU's only previous game against a team from the Beehive State. In that Oct. 14, 1995 game, played in the only season that both teams were members of the Big West Conference, the Aggies claimed a 42-7 victory on the strength of 22 third-quarter points.
NIU AND THE MOUNTAIN WEST: Since the Mountain West Conference was formed in 1999, the Huskies have played just one game against a team from that conference. Oddly enough, that matchup came in NIU's previous trip to the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in 2006 against TCU. The Huskies dropped that contest, 37-7, to the nationally-ranked Horned Frogs. That trend will change in the next three seasons, though, as NIU has home-and-home series scheduled with UNLV (2014-15) and Wyoming (2015-16).
CHARGERS CONNECTION: During NIU's previous appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2006, former Huskie standout Michael Turner was in his third year as a running back with the San Diego Chargers and took the time to visit NIU at practice prior to the game. He also attended that game with then-fellow running back (and TCU alum) LaDainian Tomlinson. Fast forward to 2013 and Larry English, who was a junior on that 2006 NIU team, is in his fifth season as an outside linebacker with the Chargers (currently on injured reserve).
THE COLE CONNECTION: NIU offensive coordinator Bob Cole is plenty familiar with Utah State, having spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the Aggies. Cole served as the offensive coordinator at USU from 2000-2004 and directed one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. Under his tutelage, the 2002 Aggies ranked seventh in the nation in passing offense, as quarterback Jose Fuentes was ninth in the country in total offense and wide receiver Kevin Curtis was sixth in receiving yards. The previous season, Cole's USU offense ranked 13th in the NCAA in passing. In 2003, tight end Chris Cooley ranked first in the nation at that position with 62 receptions for 732 yards.
HUSKIES AND THE RANKINGS: NIU is ranked 23rd in the final Bowl Championship Series Rankings, completing a string of eight straight weeks in the BCS Rankings, the longest in school history. Northern Illinois' highest BCS ranking this season was 14th (Nov. 24 and Dec. 1). NIU has been ranked in the two major polls for a record number of weeks in 2013, spending 10 weeks in the AP poll Top 25 and 11 weeks ranked in the USA Today Coaches' Poll, and are currently at No. 23 (USA Today) and No. 24 (AP). The Huskies are attempting to finish the season ranked in the Top 25 for the second year in a row after achieving final rankings of No. 22 (AP) and 24 (USA Today) a year ago.
TOP CLASS: For the third consecutive season, NIU's seniors are the winningest class in school history. With the Huskies' win over Eastern Michigan onOct. 26, the 2013 seniors unseated the 2012 group atop the wins list. The 2013 seniors have been on teams that won 11 games in both 2010 and 2011, and have matched their 12 victories of a year ago in 2013. The seniors own a winning percentage of .836 with an overall record of 46-9 and NEVER LOST a game at Huskie Stadium (22-0). The 2012 seniors were 41-13 (.759) between 2009-2012 and the 2011 class went 35-19 (.648). The class played in four MAC Championship games and won two.
ELITE COMPANY: Northern Illinois and Stanford are currently the only NCAA FBS teams to record 11-or-more victories in each of the last four seasons and NIU is the only team to accomplish the feat under three different head coaches. Oregon can join NIU and Stanford on the list with a win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl onDec. 30. In addition to the two FBS teams, Division III teams Mount Union (Ohio) and Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) have had four consecutive 11-plus win seasons.
NEVER ON SUNDAY(OR MONDAY): With the Poinsettia Bowl being played on a Thursday, NIU will have played a game every day of the week except for Sunday and Mondayin 2013. After playing the first nine games of the season on Saturday, NIU has played on Wednesday(Nov. 13 vs. Ball State; Nov. 20 at Toledo),Tuesday(Nov. 26 vs. Western Michigan) and Friday (Dec. 6 vs. Bowling Green in MAC Championship) before taking on Utah State on a Thursday night. The game also marks the first Thursday game for NIU since Sept. 2, 2010, when the Huskies traveled to Iowa State to open the 2010 season.
FIRST IN CLASS: NIU senior quarterback Jordan Lynch added to his already spectacular 2013 season Dec. 17 when he was named a first team All-American as an all-purpose player by the Associated Press. The Chicago native becomes only the second Huskie to be named to the AP's top team, joining running back LeShon Johnson in 1993. Lynch, who finished third in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting, also garnered second team All-America honors as a quarterback from both USA Today and CBSSports.com, in addition to honorable mention recognition from SI.com.
JIMMIE'S BIG A-WARD: Senior safety Jimmie Ward has had an impressive season in NIU's defensive backfield and the national writers have taken notice. Ward, who is tied for fifth nationally with six interceptions, was named a first team All-American by USA Today and SI.com to become the first Huskie defender honored as a first-team All-American. Ward also took third team All-America honors from the Associated Press, making him the first NIU defensive player to be named to any AP team. The Mobile, Ala., native also earned a spot on Athlon's third team.
IN A RUSH: After making their way to the top of the school rushing records list, the 2013 Huskies are now making their mark on the Mid-American Conference record books. Through 13 games, NIU has set the conference record for most rushing yards in a single season with 4,062, surpassing the 2010 Huskies' mark of 3,645 yards in 14 games. Additionally, the Huskies set the MAC standard with 207 rushing first downs to eclipse a 38-year old record of 195 set by Central Michigan in 1975.
OFFENSIVE STATEMENTS: The 2013 NIU offense has broken seven single-season team records this season and is closing in on the top Mid-American Conference marks, as well. With 55 more yards of total offense, the Huskies will set the conference record for most yards of total offense in a single season, breaking the record of 7,012 set by the 2003 Miami (Ohio) RedHawks - a team quarterbacked by future Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisberger. With 30 first downs, the Huskies will break the MAC record for most first downs in a single season with 376, topping Bowling Green's 375 in 2003.
CONSISTENCY: Despite being held 15 points below its scoring average by Bowling Green, the Huskie offense still scored at least six points in every quarter of the MAC Championship game. NIU has now scored in 50 of 52 quarters (96.1 percent) this season. The Huskies have been held to three points or less in a quarter only five times with at least six points in every other period of every other game this season. NIU had a string of 21 straight quarters with a score snapped in the second quarter versus Akron, and put points on the board in 19 straight periods before missing two field goals in the second quarter at Toledo. The Huskies' scoring has been consistent with 130 points in both the first and fourth quarters and 131 in the third. NIU's top scoring quarter is the second with 150 points.
TOUGH AFTER HALF: In NINE of the Huskies' 13 games this season, opponents have been held to seven points or less after halftime. The NIU defense limited Iowa, Central Michigan, Ball State and UMass to field goals, with UMass the only team to score two three-pointers in that group. Idaho, Kent State, Akron, Toledo and Western Michigan scored just one touchdown apiece after halftime. Of the opponents who scored more than seven second-half points, the points put up by Purdue (14) and Eastern Michigan (17) came in blowout Huskie wins against NIU back-ups. Overall, teams are averaging just 8.8 points in the second half against NIU. The Huskies have surrendered just 46 points in the third quarter; NIU opponents score 36 percent of their points in the first period.
NOBODY DOES BOTH BETTER: No player in the country can compare to Jordan Lynch when it comes to what he does for his team as a passer and as a rusher, not to mention as a leader. (Don't even get us started on his punting and receiving.) Start with his 2,676 passing yards on 233-of-369 passing (63.1 percent) with 23 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. Add his status as the number TWO rusher in the country with 1,881 yards on 274 carries (6.9 yards per carry) and 22 scores on the ground, and you have a player whose abilities have lifted NIU to back-to-back 12-win seasons and record-setting offensive numbers.
300, AGAIN?: For the second time this season, NIU's Jordan Lynch broke the NCAA FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback when he ran for 321 yards on 27 carries versus Western Michigan. Lynch broke the record he had set onOct. 19at Central Michigan when he ran for 316 yards on 32 carries with three rushing scores. Versus WMU, Lynch scored on runs of 29, 36 and 37 yards and averaged 11.6 yards per rush. At CMU, Lynch picked up 232 yards on 18 carries in the second half with runs of 28, 40, 40 and 49 yards. Lynch broke the mark set by Huskie signal-caller Stacey Robinson, who ran for 308 yards versus Fresno State on Oct. 6, 1990. Lynch, the fourth Huskie to go over the 300-yard mark, owns two of the Huskies' seven 300-yard rushing games.
HE OWNS IT: Jordan Lynch was named the MAC West Offensive Player of the Week a record eight times in 2013 and 12 times in his career. Lynch finished the season by being named the Player of the Week after each of his last four games. In all, five different NIU players won MAC West Player of the Week honors 13 times in 2013, with Tommylee Lewis and Ken Bishop winning twice each and Mathew Sims (at Iowa) and Cameron Stingily(versus Kent State) honored once.
WOLFE, TURNER, LYNCH: Quarterback Jordan Lynch currently ranks third on the Huskies' all-time rushing list after just two seasons as a starter. In 108 years of Huskie football, Lynch's 4,304 rushing yards rank behind ONLY All-Americans Michael Turner (4,941) and Garrett Wolfe (5,164) on the NIU career charts. NIU's reputation as a rushing powerhouse dates back to the days when Mark Kellar led the NCAA in rushing in 1973, and includes LeShon Johnson (1993) and Garrett Wolfe(2006), who also led the nation in those seasons.
GROUND AND POUND: Thirteen games into his record-setting senior season, Jordan Lynch has broken one NCAA FBS single-season quarterback rushing record and is close to eclipsing another. With 126 rushing yards against Bowling Green, he broke the single-season record for most yards by a quarterback of 1,815, which he set in 2012. Additionally, Lynch is on pace to break the NCAA record for most rushing yards gained per game by a quarterback. With a current average of 144.7 yards/game, the Chicago native needs just 21 yards to clinch the 17-year-old record set by Beau Morgan of Air Force with 135.8 YPG in 1996.
SETTLING A SCORE:With three touchdowns versus Bowling Green (two rushing, one passing), Jordan Lynch has been responsible for a school-record 46 on the season (22 rushing, 23 passing, 1 receiving), breaking the NIU record he set a year ago. Lynch has tied the NIU record for most rushing touchdowns in a season with 22 (Chad Spann, 2010) and broke the NIU record for most touchdowns scored in a season. He has run for a score in eight consecutive games with 14 rushing TDs in the last five games.
MAC MARKS IN SIGHT: After putting his name at or near the top of several single-season MAC records in 2012, Jordan Lynch is within reach of more conference records this season. He needs 48 rushing yards to set the MAC single-season record - a mark currently held by NIU alum Garrett Wolfe, who ran for 1,928 yards in 2006. Lynch is also within 95 yards of the top five in career rushing yards in conference history. He is tied for third in single-season rushing touchdowns (22), tied for fourth in single-season scoring (138) and tied for seventh in career rushing touchdowns (47).
NEVER BEFORE: Hard to believe that in all of its years as a rushing power, Northern Illinois has NEVER had two players rush for 1,000 yards in the same season...until 2013. Tailback Cameron Stingily joined Lynch in the 1,000-yard club versus WMU and enters the bowl game with 1,081 yards on 192 carries. Stingily, who has three 100-yard games this season, gained 146 yards on 18 carries at Toledo and picked up a career-best 266 yards on 37 carries at Kent State. NIU players have rushed for at least 1,000 yards in a season 28 times in school history (including this year). Lynch and Stingily are about to achieve an even bigger milestone as they can become the top rushing duo in FBS history with 43 yards versus Utah State (see chart).
THE 15TH WARD: Senior safety Jimmie Ward will go down as one of the best defensive players in NIU history, and as one of the most dependable. When he takes the field in San Diego, Ward will appear in his 55th game as a Huskie, breaking the record he currently shares with former teammates Martel Moore and Sean Progar. Ward, a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award and first team All-America selection by USA Today and SI.com, has also been selected to play in the 2014 Reese's Senior Bowl, which will take placeJan. 25, 2014, in his hometown of Mobile, Ala. He has missed just one game in his Huskie career.
BALL HAWK: Jimmie Ward has played at an elite level as a senior. He has a career-best six INTs on the season, the most by an NIU player since 2003, when Randee Drew picked off six passes. The senior, who often draws the assignment of covering the opponent's top receiver, leads NIU in tackles with 89 and has broken up eight passes. He had a career-high 12 stops in the 2013 MAC title game. The Senior Bowl invitee returned an interception at Purdue 62 yards for a touchdown and set up the Huskies' game-winning field goal at Iowa by intercepting Iowa QB Jake Rudock with1:17to play.
PICKS FOR THE PACK: NIU has intercepted 17 passes in 2013, the highest total by a Northern Illinois team since the 2003 Huskies had 23 INTs. NIU ranks tied for 13th in the country in interceptions. Safeties Jimmie Ward (6), Dechane Durante (3) and Dominique Ware (2) have accounted for 11 picks, while nine different players have picked off a pass this season.
PICK POCKETS:While most of the attention has been on NIU's offense this season, the Huskie defense has made a name for themselves in the turnover department. The opportunistic unit ranks ninth nationally with a +13 turnover margin and are tied for 10th in the country with 28 takeaways. NIU leads the MAC in interceptions and the Huskie defense has forced at least one turnover in 12 of 13 games this season.
NO SACKS FOR YOU: Through 13 games, NIU is fourth in the nation with only nine sacks allowed. The O-line has posted six games with no sacks allowed and four others with only one opponent sack. The line powers a Huskie offense ranked fifth overall (535.5 yards/game), fourth in rushing (312.5) and eighth in scoring (41.6 points/game). With the loss of left tackle Tyler Loos, who suffered a dislocated ankle and broken leg versus UMass, the Huskies' offensive line now consists of tackles Matt Krempel (RT) and Ryan Brown (LT), guards Jared Volk (LG) and Aidan Conlon (RG) and center Andrew Ness. Junior Tyler Pitt rotates in at guard.
GRADS: The Northern Illinois roster for the Poinsettia Bowl includes 11 players who have already earned their undergraduate degrees. Five players entered the season with their undergrad degrees in hand: offensive linemen Matt Krempel (health sciences/pre-physical therapy) Jared Volk (business) and Matt Battaglia (history), quarterback Jordan Lynch (kinesiology/exercise science) and safety Dominique Ware (business). Seniors Zach Anderson (corporate communications), Sean Evans (politicial science), George Rainey (general studies), Nathan McNeal (communications, media studies) and Anthony Wells (general studies) picked up their degrees in commencement ceremonies Dec. 15 as did junior fullback Ricky Connors (political science), who will return for his senior season as a grad student.
NO SENIORS: Of the 19 players who have caught a pass for NIU this year, only one - QB Jordan Lynch (on a 17-yard TD catch from Tommylee Lewis versus Eastern Michigan) - is a senior. The Huskies do not have a single (active) senior wide receiver, running back, fullback or tight end in 2013. The receptions by class are led by NIU's juniors with Lewis (80) and Da'Ron Brown (42) combining for 122 catches for 1,349 of NIU's 2,900 receiving yards (46.6 percent). Lewis and Brown both missed time late in the season, and sophomore Juwan Brescacin stepped up, with four TD catches in NIU's last six games, and an eight-catch, 121-yard day at Toledo.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Defensive tackle Ken Bishop ranks fourth on the Huskie team in tackles with 65 and made a career-high 11 stops at Toledo, and his 5.5 tackles for loss are tied for fourth on the team. At UMass, Bishop stepped in front of a screen pass for his first career INT and finished with nine tackles to earn his second MAC West Defensive Player of the Week Award. Bishop was also honored versus Idaho. Akron Head Coach Terry Bowden came away impressed with the NIU senior, "I don't think there's a better defensive player in the league than No. 93 (Bishop). He's got incredible strength and explosion. Whether it's against Iowa or us, he has the ability to stick a hand in somebody's chest and just drive them back. Then he separates with great quickness."
ALL-PURPOSE: Junior standout Tommylee Lewis returned to the NIU line-up versus Bowling Green after missing the last two games of the season and caught six passes to up his season total to 80, the second-highest single season total in NIU history. He caught a career-high 12 passes (tied for sixth all-time and the most by a Huskie since 2005) versus Ball State, and has 660 receiving yards this year. The 5-7 Floridian also ranks third on the team in rushing with 356 yards on 28 carries to average 12.7 yards. He is NIU's top kickoff returner with 11 for 312 yards, including a 99-yard kickoff return score at Purdue. He rushed for 104 yards at Idaho and had his first career 100-yard receiving day versus Eastern Michigan. Lewis has also returned six punts for 22 yards and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass vs. EMU. Lewis was recognized as an honorable mention All-American as an all-purpose player by SI.com.
HOME IS SWEET: The Huskies will go into 2014 with the longest winning streak by a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team in its home stadium. NIU's 26 consecutive wins at Huskie Stadium is a school and Mid-American Conference record. Ninety-six players on NIU's 2013 team have NEVER lost on Brigham Field. NIU went 5-0 at home in 2013 to record its fourth straight unbeaten campaign in DeKalb. The Huskies' last loss in DeKalb occurred Sept. 26, 2009, 34-31 to Idaho.
B1G BUSTER: After defeating both Iowa (30-27) and Purdue (55-24) during the non-conference schedule, NIU is 4-4 in its last eight games versus Big Ten Conference opponents and became the first MAC team to defeat two Big Ten opponents in a regular season. The Huskies' 55 points at Purdue were the most scored by a MAC team versus the Big Ten and its 31-point victory margin tied for the largest in league history. NIU has more Big Ten wins in 2013 than any team in the state.
THE HARD WAY: Over the years, the NIU football program has embraced the motto "The Hard Way," a term used by NIU coaches to describe the Huskies' ability to battle adversity and overcome obstacles en route to success. The phrase dates back to the Joe Novak era (1996-2007), and is heard in the team's postgame chant. "The Hard Way" is written on the backs of the Huskies Dark Dog jerseys, which they wore in the last two games.