Detroit, MI – The Northern Illinois Huskies and the Ohio American Conference Championship at Ford Field.
Dave Doeren was not the coach of NIU last year, but he made it clear that he intended to reverse the result of the 2010 MAC Championship game in which the Huskies' hearts were broken by a late game touchdown pass by Miami's Austin Boucher.
"I came here to win championships. That's the one that we can win this year. That's what it's all about. At the end of the day, we want to be the MAC West champion, and if we can win the whole thing every year, that's our No. 1 goal. That's why I came here".
Doeren has done a superb job in his first year, as the Huskies are riding a seven-game winning streak into the championship game. NIU has won in every possible way during the streak, whether it be a 63-60 shootout or a 18-12 struggle, the Huskies have proven to be winners. NIU enters the championship with a 9-3 record overall and a 7-1 record against conference opponents.
Ohio is not going to be a cakewalk for the Huskies. The Bobcats are currently on a five-game winning streak against conference opponents. Coach Frank Solich is no stranger to big-time games. Ohio's coach spent six seasons at Nebraska before arriving in Athens and enjoyed a run at the 2001 National Championship but came up just short. Solich has a chance to add to his impressive resume with his 9-3 Ohio squad that went 6-2 in the MAC after a slow start to conference play.
These teams are not only even this season, they are also even in the all-time series. The MAC Championship game will break the 9-9 tie of the NIU-Ohio rivalry.
Ohio's offense is the third best in the conference and 18th best in the nation. It is led by its quarterback Tyler Tettleton. The sophomore has been a scrappy, yet talented leader this season with 2868 passing yards and 584 rushing yards. Tettleton has passed the test so far as he has led his team to close win after close win all season long.
Ohio's two biggest weapons on the offensive side of the ball are Donte Harden and LaVon Brazill. Harden is a tough runner with excellent vision. His gritty running style allows the Bobcats to feed him the ball continuously if need be. Harden has amassed 866 yards on the ground this season and is also used on special teams as the kick returner. Brazill has the rare ability to make spectacular catches, but often does not need to as the speedster is almost impossible to contain. Brazill has tallied 918 receiving yards this season and will look to eclipse the 1000-yard mark in addition to helping Ohio win its first MAC championship.
Northern Illinois has scored its share of points this season, but that might not be the case against the Bobcats in this one. Ohio has one of the premier defenses in the conference. The Bobcats are ranked second in the MAC in points allowed with 22 per game and are ranked 28th in the nation in rushing defense, which will be a key to the game. Linebacker Noah Keller can cover a lot of ground and will have the challenge of slowing down NIU's scrambler as plays break down.
The Huskies' high powered offense is charged by its duel threat signal caller Chandler Harnish. The senior quarterback is ranked seventh in the nation and first in the conference in total yards per game, which has led to a boat load of yards and scoring for NIU. The Huskies are ranked ninth in the nation in total yards and 11th in the nation in scoring this season. Harnish has thrown for 2,692 yards, 23 touchdowns, and just four interceptions while rushing for 1,351 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
If Harnish was not already enough, NIU also has Jasmin Hopkins to torture defenses. Hopkins has 872 yards and 15 touchdowns on 167 carries this season. Both Harnish and Hopkins are ranked in the top 10 in rushing in the conference. Nathan Palmer, Martel Moore, and Ashford Perez are all viable options in the receiving game. Each receiver has 400-plus yards this year. Palmer leads the team with 42 receptions and 568 yards.
NIU's defense would be its Achilles' heel if the offense did not have the ability to flat out dominate this year. The defensive unit is ranked 91st in the nation in total defense and 94th in the nation in scoring defense. The Huskies finally did prove in last week's win over Eastern Michigan they could stop opponents as they contained Eastern Michigan's offense in the 18-12 win.