NCF Nation: Pat Schiller Bowl

December, 4, 2011
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.

NIU wants payback in MAC title game

December, 2, 2011
All offseason, they thought about it.

All spring, they thought about it.

All summer, they thought about it.

Northern Illinois had to get back to the MAC title game, had to make up for the heartbreak of last season.

The Huskies were on a nine-game winning streak and riding high with a Top 25 ranking when they faced Miami (Ohio) in the championship game in 2010. They were a big favorite to win, with Chandler Harnish at quarterback and league MVP Chad Spann at running back.

But somehow, the RedHawks pulled out an improbable 26-21 win after Austin Boucher threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Armand Robinson with 33 seconds left. Linebacker Pat Schiller admitted earlier this week the Huskies flat-out underestimated the underdog.

"After we lost," Schiller said, "I realized to never underestimate your opponent, especially in a championship game."

[+] EnlargeNorthern Illinois' Chandler Harnish
Andrew Weber/US PresswireNorthern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish passed for 2,692 yards this season and added another 1,351 rushing yards.
Now the Huskies are back in the MAC title game, facing Ohio tonight (7 p.m., ESPN2) with lessons learned from 2010.

"This is what it all comes down to, this is where my legacy's going to be left," Harnish said earlier this week. "We have a lot of unfinished business. We're trying to avenge some bad demons that happened to us last year. This is what we've been focused on all year, as a senior class this is what it's all riding on."

First-year coach Dave Doeren said he never mentioned Detroit -- site of the title game -- to his team. But he did not have to, because his players mentioned it for him. Their primary motivation this season has been to win a ring.

"Last year in one word it was a heart breaker," Harnish said. "We can look back and say we didn't run the ball very well and running the ball is a big part of our offense and we weren't able to do that. I don't think we were ourselves. We didn't play with that normal energy. We gave Miami a chance to play with us and they took advantage. We need to be ourselves and bring that energy and not take anything for granted."

Indeed, "heart breaker" is the word to describe what has happened to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. In its only other appearance in the game, Akron beat the Huskies 31-30 on a 36-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining in 2005.

So the Huskies not only have something to prove for themselves, but for the program. They have got to find a way to win a championship.

"If we can do something like that, expectations for this university will definitely increase and it helps with recruiting and things like that," Harnish said. "We feel like we have a direct impact on history but we have to go take it. It's not going to be given to us. We have to play our best football, but we can definitely have a great impact on the future of this program."

Harnish already has, with his record-setting senior season. He won the Vern Smith Leadership Award and MAC Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,351 yards and passing for another 2,692 yards this season to set a single-season school record for total offense. He will finish his career with 13 school career offensive records.

But his leadership was huge after Northern Illinois dropped to 2-3 following a 48-41 loss to Central Michigan -- one of the worst teams in the MAC. Doeren told the players that from then on, they needed to view the season as a playoff. They took those words to heart, especially Harnish, who nearly quit the team last season after he lost his starting job.

The wins that followed may not have been pretty, but a 63-60 victory over Toledo essentially allowed them to win the West. They closed the season with seven straight wins.

In the East, the Bobcats closed the season with five straight wins and also rely heavily on their running quarterback, Tyler Tettleton, who has 3,444 total yards and 34 touchdowns this season. Ohio set nine team records this season, including scoring, total offense and passing yards.

With the way Harnish and Tettleton are playing right now, this one may end up being decided by one of them. After what happened last season, Harnish would relish that opportunity.
Northern Illinois announced the status of several players who suffered injuries during or prior to spring football.

Starting quarterback Chandler Harnish, who was supposed to have knee surgery this spring for an injury he suffered during the season, came back during the second week of spring ball, participated fully in practices and scrimmages and now coaches say that he will not have surgery.

“Chandler’s situation has been unique,” coach Jerry Kill said in a statement released by the school.

Harnish is currently involved in a tight race at quarterback and Kill said prior to spring practices that if Harnish missed the spring season, the quarterback competition would be opened up.

The school also announced that junior linebacker Pat Schiller suffered a right knee injury during spring practices and will have surgery this week. Kill said he is optimistic that Schiller will be able to return to play this season.

Senior safety Mike Sobol, who suffered a left knee injury during spring drills, already underwent surgery to repair his knee. Kill said Sobol could be back by the season opener.