Falcons and Huskies tangle for MAC crown

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Detroit, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - Ranked 16th in the nation in the latest Associated Press poll, the Northern Illinois Huskies try to keep their perfect record intact on Friday as they clash with the Bowling Green Falcons in the Mid-American Conference Championship game at Ford Field.

The Huskies are now just one of three undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the only one of the group that comes from outside the BCS, as Florida State and Ohio State command more attention on a national level. Northern Illinois is also ranked 14th in the most current BCS standings, which again is the highest position of any program from a non-power conference.

The Huskies have won six straight games by double figures, the most recent of those triumphs coming on Nov. 26 in a 33-14 final versus Western Michigan at home.

Since losing back-to-back games against Mississippi State and Toledo, the Falcons have turned it around with four consecutive victories. The team defeated Buffalo on the road last week by a score of 24-7, which means each opponent during the current run has been held to a touchdown or less. Bowling Green has outscored foes during the streak by a combined 176-17.

The Huskies are representing the West Division in this contest for the fourth year in a row and the fifth time overall since 2005. Ranked 19th in the nation at the time, the team needed a pair of overtimes to defeat 18th-ranked Kent State in last year's battle, 44-37.

Bowling Green took part in this game only once before back in 2003 when it fell to Miami-Ohio, 49-27.

As far as the all-time series is concerned, BGSU holds a 10-7 edge over the Huskies, although the Falcons have dropped three in a row to NIU.

While Northern Illinois focuses more on offense these days, the Falcons take the opposite approach as they seek to shut down opponents more often than not. In fact, BGSU has held a total of seven teams to a touchdown or less on the season and because of that the overall scoring defense ranks fifth in the country with a paltry 13.8 ppg permitted.

The Falcons don't necessarily have a single, dominant player on that side of the ball, instead there's a host of attackers who on any night can be the star of the show. The team is averaging slightly better than six tackles for loss per game, yet no one has more than 6.5 TFL on the season, that being D.J. Lynch who is also the leading tackler overall with 67.

The squad is giving up just 296.6 ypg in total offense, good for seventh in the country, with the pass defense being the toughest hurdle to overcome for the opposition as the Falcons allow a mere 161.8 ypg (fourth nationally).

From an offensive standpoint, clearly Bowling Green has hit its stride over the last month or so, thanks to quarterback Matt Johnson who has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 2,802 yards and 18 touchdowns, while Travis Greene anchors a rushing attack with his 1,422 yards and 10 TDs on 235 attempts. However, even more productive when it comes to scoring, William Houston has 11 TDs on just 48 attempts.

The Huskies are built around the exploits of quarterback Jordan Lynch who had yet another record-setting effort against Western Michigan in the final game of the regular season. The signal caller broke his own single-game rushing record for a quarterback as he gained a staggering 321 yards and scored three times on 27 carries in the victory. Lynch added 39 yards and another score through the air as he single-handedly out-gained the Broncos who came up with just 256 yards on the night.

Named the MAC Offensive Player of the Week yet again, Lynch is unlike most conventional quarterbacks and because of that is probably not getting the sort of national recognition that he deserves, according to his head coach, Rod Carey.

"I've said it, and I sound like a broken record, but if he's not in the Heisman conversation, I guess I don't know what a Heisman is or should be, because to me, that's exactly what it is, what you saw tonight."

Lynch has the NIU offense ranked fourth in the country with both 318.9 ypg rushing and 542.3 ypg in total offense, leading to 42.8 ppg which is ninth in the nation entering play this week. In terms of total offense on an individual level Lynch, who has scored a mind-boggling 20 rushing touchdowns and thrown for 22 more, is fourth in the country with 351.0 ypg all by himself.

Over on the defensive side of the ball for the Huskies, Jimmie Ward leads the way with not just 77 tackles but also six interceptions and 14 total passes defended. As a unit they've produced 17 INTs and recovered 10 fumbles, all of which goes into NIU ranking eighth in the nation in turnover margin with a plus-1.2 per contest.

For his efforts, Ward has been selected to take part in the 2014 Senior Bowl, an invitation that is not lost on coach Carey.

"He's a quality young man who has grown a lot since coming here. He cares about this program and this university and that shows through his play. I couldn't be happier for him, he's most deserving of this opportunity and I know his future is bright."