Hey there Huskies of Northern Illinois. You've just won your second straight Mid-American Conference title on the back of 12 straight victories and as a result, you've been rewarded with a berth in the 2013 Orange Bowl.
When that announcement came down last December, NIU Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Jeff Compher said, "This will go down as a seminal day in the history of our university and of our football program. It's a day that all of our alumni, current students and fans will remember forever with tremendous pride. I am confident our fans and alumni will respond with a great presence in Miami for this game. I know the Orange Bowl Committee and the city of Miami will provide a great experience for Huskie Nation."
Congratulations were certainly in order for a team that deserved a ton of credit for a job well done, but with the positive often comes the negative, and there were a whole host of pundits who lined up to take pot shots at the little team that could, stating the somewhat obvious, which is ... 'you really have no business playing in one of the biggest bowl games as a member of the BCS upper crust'. Plain and simple.
Even the Orange Bowl itself, which Compher had hoped would offer a top-notch experience for his student-athletes and the hordes of Husky backers set to invade the Magic City, took umbrage with your selection, with one bowl official apparently going so far as to declare, "We don't want you. You don't deserve to be here".
Ouch! Not exactly the hospitable welcome NIU was hoping for when it became the first team in MAC history to earn a BCS bowl bid.
There are some who thought the Huskies would use the diss to their advantage and make their detractors eat a whole bunch of crow, but that wasn't the case as their opponent, the Florida State Seminoles, weren't buying the hype either and pulled away late en route to a 31-10 victory.
Head coach Dave Doeren parlayed his limited yet resounding success (23-4 in two years in DeKalb) into a cushy new job at NC State, missing out on the Orange Bowl and leaving the reins to former offensive coordinator Rod Carey to, well ... carry on.
Carey will try to make those still involved with the program forget the unpleasantness of their most recent foray into the postseason, but despite his exuberance in landing his first head coaching gig, he is quick to point out that he doesn't intend to reinvent the wheel.
"When you have a program like this, it's not about what you can change; it's about what you can keep. We've got great players and we want to keep this ball rolling."
Prior to their record-setting effort last season, the Huskies posted back-to- back 11-win campaigns and have now played in five straight bowl games, seven in the last nine seasons overall. The 2012 senior class went down as the winningest in school history (41 victories), and the 2011 MAC crown earned by the team was its first since way back in 1983. NIU finished this past season ranked No. 16 in both major polls, while finishing at No. 15 in the final BCS rankings.
Despite all the good vibes surrounding the Huskies the last few years, don't expect Carey and company to rest on their laurels as we all know that prior success doesn't guarantee future performance. Still, the return of several key players should assure NIU another stellar season, particularly if All-America quarterback Jordan Lynch plays as well as a senior as he did as a junior when he threw for 3,138 yards, 25 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions, while also finishing fourth in the country in rushing with 1,815 yards and 19 scores.
The 2012 season marked Lynch's first as a starter, but he enters this new campaign as a bona fide Heisman candidate, despite playing for a school and in a conference that gets very little respect on the national stage, the majority of the time.
The Huskies kick off the 2013 season with a pair of road games, at Iowa and Idaho, before playing their home opener versus FCS foe Eastern Illinois. Making the trek to face a second Big Ten Conference team in Purdue follows, before they embark on what should be another exciting run against MAC rivals.
Winning a third straight conference crown won't be easy, but if Lynch stays healthy and Carey is able to rally the troops in an effort to stay the course set in place by his predecessor, folks in DeKalb should be all smiles once again.