It's safe to say that Bowling Green, set in a blip of a burgh in
northwest Ohio, was a little bowled over by the attention paid to
its showdown last Saturday with No. 12 Northern Illinois. By
Tuesday of game week, the school, which hadn't had a home sellout
since 1983, was out of tickets. And despite a downpour on
Saturday morning, more than 3,000 fans showed up to watch a live
broadcast of ESPN College GameDay. The national attention would
have cowed many small-school quarterbacks, but not senior Josh
Harris. When asked in the postgame press conference whether he
could have foreseen throwing for 438 yards in a 34-18 win over
the Huskies, Harris didn't hesitate. "Yes, I did," he said.
"That's why I came to Bowling Green."
The 6'3", 238-pound Harris is the brightest star in a burgeoning
Mid-American Conference. But watching the multithreat quarterback
tear up defenses--the Falcons upset Purdue earlier this season
and narrowly lost to Ohio State--one wonders why Harris isn't on
a Top 10 team himself. Harris was in fact recruited by several
major-conference schools as an option quarterback at Westerville
(Ohio) North High, in a suburb of Columbus, in 1999. Problem was,
Ohio State, Penn State and others wanted to use his speed and
athleticism at cornerback, running back, anywhere, it seemed, but
quarterback. Harris, who had a passion for passing, stood firm.
"When the bigger schools didn't offer me a scholarship to play
quarterback," he says, "I told myself, Fine, I'll go to the MAC
and become the best quarterback ever to play at Bowling Green."
Harris is on his way to doing just that. After throwing for 2,425
yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior, he has 2,285 yards and 13
touchdowns in eight games this fall. Before Saturday's game
Harris forced himself to view (and then review five times) the
tape of last year's 26-17 loss to Northern Illinois. "With a
year's experience, I knew what to look for," says Harris, who
answered almost every blitz with a soaring toss over the top. By
the end of the game, the quarterback whose arm was once not
considered Big Ten-worthy had thrown scoring passes of 17, 31 and
55 yards. His 527 total yards were the highest single-game output
in school history and the second-highest ever in the MAC. Said
Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak, "What a great performance.
He's not running as much as he did last year, but he's got the
ball on crucial downs."
Harris might not be able to lead his team to a BCS bowl (the
17th-ranked Falcons are 7-1, but their strength of schedule is
89th) or earn a spot on the Heisman ballot. But he will graduate
having made many coaches regret they overlooked both him and
Bowling Green. "The effort by this team is unbelievable," said
Harris after Saturday's victory. "I've been saying for a long
time that this team was special, and we showed that today."