NIU has a tough act to surpass

Weekends don't turn out much better than this past one for first-year Northern Illinois football coach Dave Doeren.

His Huskies (10-3, 7-1 MAC) captured their first Mid-American Conference championship in 28 years Friday night in Detroit with a frantic 23-20 comeback victory over Ohio. Then Doeren enjoyed his 40th birthday with his family Saturday before learning Sunday that NIU will face Arkansas State in the Bowl on Jan. 8 in Mobile, Ala.


"I don't think the (MAC) championship has set in yet. I haven't watched our film yet," Doeren said Sunday. "I spent Saturday with my family and watched the games Saturday night and did a few logistical things for where we're going bowl-wise."

The Huskies will face Arkansas State (10-2, 8-0), champion of the Sun Belt Conference, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. It will be the sixth bowl appearance in the last eight years for Northern Illinois and the fourth in a row.

NIU, 3-3 in bowls since 1969, defeated Fresno State 40-17 last year in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

Arkansas State beat Troy 45-14 on Saturday to win the conference title. The Red Wolves and Huskies will face each other for the first time since 1996 and the eighth all-time. NIU leads the series 6-1.

It will be difficult for the Bowl to replicate the exhilaration the Huskies felt after overcoming a 20-0 halftime deficit against Ohio.

"It was kind of the synopsis of our season, to be honest with you," Doeren said. "We're just the comeback kids all year. … They never quit and stuck together through a lot of tough games. That game really highlighted how mentally tough our guys are.

"Even though we won eight in a row and won the West (division) and won the MAC, in my opinion we really haven't come close to playing a full game."