Friday December 2nd, 2011

MAC Championship Game -- Ohio vs. Northern Illinois, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Bobcats and Huskies both emerged 9-3 from a wild and wooly season of conference scrabbling, and are riding hot streaks into Detroit's Ford Field. Ohio hasn't lost since October 15 against Ball State; NIU's run of good fortune dates back two weeks further to an odd stumble against a not-good Central Michigan outfit. Apart from that one hiccup, NIU's only losses have come against BCS competition, although the first was merely Kansas. NIU's best win, for my part, came against a Toledo team fully expected to swipe the MAC title for itself. A 63-60 Tuesday shootout helped publicize the enjoyable phenomenon of weeknight MACtion. Ohio had its own baffling faceplant against Buffalo in Week 5, and fell to Rutgers at the tail end of nonconference play in September. The Bobcats played a less impressive schedule, filling their nonconference slots with such luminaries as New Mexico State and FCS nonentity Gardner-Webb and drawing the less able West Division teams in cross-conference action.

Tonight's game pits the losers of the past two MAC title contests, but both teams have made marked improvements over their predecessors. The Bobcats in particular have executed a sharp year-over-year turnaround on offense behind the arm and legs of sophomore quarterback Tyler Tettleton. For the Huskies, there wasn't all that much further to climb; Chandler Harnish is a senior now with a host of experienced receivers at his command and an offensive line that's cleared the way for him to end the regular season as the nation's 15th-ranked rusher. This Ohio front seven shouldn't present too many problems for Harnish; NIU's, however, is something to be concerned about. The Huskies are allowing well over 400 yards of offense per game, and between their prowess with the ball and disdain for keeping opponents out of the endzone, tonight augurs well for another classic non-AQ shootout.

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