LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — No. 16 Northern Illinois is trying to focus only on the Mid-American Conference championship game.
That might not be easy.
If the Huskies beat Bowling Green on Friday night in Detroit, they will likely earn a second straight BCS bowl bid.
Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said the Falcons are probably better in all three phases of the game than any opponent his team has faced this season.
Bowling Green will need to be really good on offense, defense and special teams to do enough to beat Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch. The Heisman Trophy candidate has accounted for 4,212 yards and 43 touchdowns this season. Lynch is 25-2 as a Northern Illinois starting quarterback and hasn’t lost a MAC game.
Here are five things to watch when the Huskies (12-0, 8-0 MAC) face the Falcons (9-3, 7-1) at Ford Field:
HIGH STAKES: Northern Illinois’ most difficult task might be to avoid looking ahead to a probable invitation to play in the Fiesta Bowl, one of three BCS bowls expected to send a representative to the Motor City to scout the Huskies. Northern Illinois, No. 14 in the BCS standings, can lock up a BCS bid by finishing in the top 12 or by staying in the top 16 and ahead of an automatic qualifying conference champion. Coach Rod Carey has done everything he can to convince his players to pay attention to the immediate task. “There’s only one game we have guaranteed to us right now — and that’s the MAC championship,” Carey said.
HEISMAN HOPES: A case can be made that Lynch is the most outstanding player in college football. The senior QB has scored 258 points, ranking second in the nation; run for 1,755 yards and 20 touchdowns, ranking third in each category; and accounted for 4,212 yards of total offense, ranking fourth. “He’s an incredible talent,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “He’s very physical. He doesn’t wear down. He’s an All-American running back and an All-American quarterback wrapped up into one player.”
X-FACTOR: Beyond slowing down Lynch, Bowling Green can boost its chances at upsetting the Huskies by handing off the ball to running back Travis Greene to control the clock. The converted wide receiver has run for 1,422 yards — 23 yards away from breaking the single-season school record — at an average of 6-plus yards per carry and has scored 10 times on the ground. The Falcons haven’t beaten a ranked team since 2008, when they defeated No. 25 Pittsburgh, and their last win over a top 15 team was a decade ago against then-No. 12 Northern Illinois.
THEY’RE STREAKING: Northern Illinois has won 25 straight MAC games, the nation’s longest active conference winning streak, since losing its 2011 league opener at Central Michigan. The Huskies are playing in their fourth straight MAC title game, a matchup they’re expected to win. “Anytime you’re in a championship game there is pressure,” Carey said. “But I don’t why pressure is a bad thing. I know there are a lot of teams that would love to be in this situation, and would beg for it.”
THE OTHER QB: Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson has done a good job of managing games, completing 63 percent of his passes for 2,802 yards with 18 TDs and seven interceptions. “He’s playing really well and that’s the thing that concerns you,” Carey said. “They got a quarterback making the right decisions at the right time.”
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