Northern Illinois Football Game Preview: Mallory Cup vs Miami (Ohio)

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Northern Illinois football can clinch the MAC West title with a victory in either of their last two games: Wednesday night against Miami of Ohio, or the following Tuesday November 20th at Western Michigan. After winning the division six years straight, 2010-2015, NIU was an also-ran in the division the past two seasons.

Now they are on the precipice of returning to the Mid-American Conference championship game in Detroit, and with it reclaiming their position as the gold standard for #MACtion excellence in the 2010s. The Huskies have won the conference title three times this decade (2011, 2012, 2014) and will almost certainly meet Buffalo in the conference title game.

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Coming off a 38-15 thrashing of Toledo in midweek last week, 2018 Northern Illinois football appears to be peaking at just the right time.

Northern Illinois football vs Miami of Ohio FYIs 

Kickoff/TV: 7 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, November 14 Huskie Stadium, ESPNU

Roy Philpott (play-by-play) and Tom Ramsey (color analyst)

SERIES HISTORY: NIU owns a 10-8 advantage in the all-time series between the two schools which began on Oct. 3, 1970 with a 48-0 win by Miami. NIU has won eight of the last nine meetings, including three straight,

SPREAD: Northern Illinois football -6 1/2

Inaugural Mallory Cup Game

This is a trophy game, as the Mallory Cup honors the late Bill Mallory, who coached both teams to MAC Championships during his career. Mallory, who passed away this May, will be honored at the game by the attendance of his widow Ellie, daughter Barbara Mallory Britt, and more than 50 of his former players.

“I’m really excited to start this tradition with Miami of playing for the Mallory Cup.”

“I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to Coach Mallory – both for what he’s meant to me personally, as well as what he’s meant to both institutions and to this conference,” said Northern Illinois football coach Rod Carey, who played for Mallory at Indiana from 1989-93.

Miami of Ohio (4-6, 4-2 MAC) Preview:

It’s fitting that this game honors a former coach because Miami (OH) University is the “Cradle of Coaches.” M of O has produced a ton of eventual star coaches including, but not limited to:

Earl Blaik, Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Bill Arnsparger, Weeb Ewbank, Sid Gillman, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Bill Mallory, Jim Tressel, Joe Novak, Ron Zook, Dick Randy Walker, John Harbaugh, Gary Moeller, Dick Tomey, Sean Payton and Terry Hoeppner.

The current coach, Chuck Martin, went off on an epic rant last week after beating arch-rival Ohio in the latest installment of a rivalry that has become increasingly one-sided, and not in their favor, in recent years.

miami of ohio

Ohio has dominated “the battle of the bricks” in recent years, but the Red Hawks took the 2018 meeting 30-28. That moved Miami to second place in the MAC east, but at 4-6, and huge underdogs here it looks like there is no bowl in the cards for this team.

Their non-conference showing was dreadful, but what’s most interesting about this team is Martin’s testy press conference this past week in which he lashed out at his own school and his own fans. He made a lot of comments that really can’t be walked back all that easily, and it looks like, eventually, Mallory and Miami of Ohio might be headed to a bitter divorce.

Have a watch below:

Northern Illinois Football (7-3, 6-0 MAC) Preview:

Like last year’s version, this Northern Illinois football team wins by playing heavy defense, a decent running game and a just enough passing here and there to keep opposing defenders honest. The running game has enough variance and options that NIU can still overcome MAC defenses that choose to stack the box.

It’s a unit that was among the worst in the nation in September in yards per play, but now seems to be coming into their own.

niu football

After that lopsided loss at Florida State in week four, which now seems inexplicable given how the season has gone for both teams since that one-sider affair, NIU has scored 20+ in five of their six games. In their first four, Northern never reached 20, and in their first two couldn’t even reach double digits.

Tre Harbison (139 yards against Toledo) leads the way with 804 yards rushing on the season, while Marcus Jones (101 yards rushing against the Rockets last week) is second on the team with 478. Quarterback Marcus Childers leads the team in rushing touchdowns with five.

sutton smith

However, it’s a converted ball-carrier, defensive end Sutton Smith, who is the true star of this Northern Illinois football team. Smith returned a blocked punt 27 yards to the house last week against Toledo in the second quarter to give the Huskies a 17-9 halftime lead.

The sack man cometh, and showcased his former tailback skills along the way on the game-changing special teams play.

niu huskies

Prediction: NIU 33, Miami of Ohio 14

It’s an interesting time when you look at the four college football programs that receive the most media coverage in Chicagoland- Notre Dame (two wins away from a playoff berth), Northwestern (in their conference title game), and the Huskies (soon to be headed to towards their conference title game). And then of course there’s Illinois, which is just, uhm, well, yeah, ok.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation. 

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Lineups.com and Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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