Sunday, December 4, 2011
By Matt Fortuna and Andrea Adelson
Arkansas State Red Wolves (10-2) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (10-3)
Jan. 8, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Arkansas State take by college football blogger Matt Fortuna: The Red Wolves' 45-14 win Saturday over Troy made them the first team in Sun Belt Conference history to win 10 regular-season games. Hugh Freeze became just the 14th FBS first-year head coach to win 10 regular-season games. In addition, by going 8-0 in conference play, Arkansas State is just the third school in Sun Belt history to go undefeated in conference play.
The Red Wolves have their first 10-win season since 1986 and are on a nine-game winning streak for the first time since 1975. They won seven games by double-digits, their most since 1987. And they have done it behind both sides of the ball, ranking 25th in total offense and 20th in total defense.
Wide receiver Dwayne Frampton has rewritten the school record book, amassing a school-record 1,125 receiving yards on 90 catches this season. His 159 career catches are a school record. His five 100-yard receiving games this year are tied for most in a single season in school history.
Defensively, the Red Wolves have held six opponents below 20 points and seven below 100 rushing yards, and have 18 interceptions, tied for fifth in the nation.
NIU take from Nation blogger Andrea Adelson: Not again, right? Every time Northern Illinois had gotten into the MAC title game, it ended in disappointment for the Huskies.
They were back in it this year after losing a heartbreaker in 2010, and found themselves down 20-0 to Ohio at one point in the second half. But quarterback Chandler Harnish willed his team to a win, and the defense came up with huge plays as the Huskies rallied for a 23-20 victory, tying the largest comeback in school history. Northern Illinois can call itself conference champions for the second time, and have posted back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history.
Northern Illinois also is one of just five teams among the non-AQs to have at least six wins in five straight seasons.
Perhaps most impressive about the championship is this: The Huskies did it with a first-year coach in Dave Doeren and nine new starters on defense. Plus, they lost MVP running back Chad Spann. Without him, Harnish picked up his game and won MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors, setting a school record with more than 4,000 yards of total offense, and adding 37 touchdowns.
Harnish, always a threat out of the backfield, had more than 1,000 yards on the ground -- the 12th time in 13 seasons the Huskies had somebody go for more than 1,000 yards rushing. Jasmin Hopkins replaced Spann in the backfield and ran for 932 yards and 15 touchdowns. Linebacker Pat Schiller leads the way with 108 tackles, including 10 for loss. This is a team that is generally involved in some pretty entertaining and close games. Seven games have been decided by a touchdown or less -- five by a field goal or less.