Joe Novak gave NIU a great legacy

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
10:30
AM ET
There's something unique about Northern Illinois football, a reason the Huskies keep showing up in the Mid-American Conference Game of the Decade.

That's what we have Wednesday night on ESPN2, Ball State versus Northern Illinois, the best MAC football game since Chris Fowler, Coach Corso, Herbie and the "GameDay" crew hyped No. 12 Northern Illinois versus No. 23 Bowling Green from inside Doyt Perry Stadium in 2003.

The midweek clash for control of the MAC West is a secret so sweet that part of me doesn't want to share it. I'd rather watch as word leaks out organically over Twitter on Wednesday night. This could be a Category 5 MAC-nado.

Weather permitting, we're going to witness an offensive shootout that would rival Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant squaring off in a game of one-on-one in their respective primes. The points won't be a product of bad defense. The 20th-ranked Huskies (9-0) field a dynamic rushing attack led by a skinny Tebow, Jordan Lynch, the nation's seventh-leading rusher. The unranked Cardinals (9-1) field a dynamic passing attack led by the poor man's Tom Brady, Keith Wenning, the nation's fourth-leading passer.

It's going to take 51 points to win this showdown.

When it's over, I hope both teams get the respect they're due, particularly the Huskies. Joe Novak turned Northern Illinois into the Fresno State of the Midwest. It's not a coincidence NIU keeps knocking off BCS teams and showing up in the national rankings. He built the 2003 Huskies team that shocked Alabama in Tuscaloosa and rose to No. 12 in the nation. During a 12-year stint in the 1990s and 2000s, Novak laid a foundation for sustained success similar to what Pat Hill did at Fresno State.

Continuity is rare in the Mid-American Conference. Coaches come and go quickly.

"Either a coach wins big and gets offered a million dollars from a BCS school or a coach loses and gets fired," Novak told me Monday afternoon. "That's MAC football. There's no in-between."

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• Columnist for Fox Sports from 2010-2013
• Columnist at the Kansas City Star for 16 years
• ESPN.com Page 2 columnist from 2002 to 2006

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