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2010 Finale: High Note or False Hope

Fight team fight for the Bronze Stalk...

For eleven weeks this season I’ve watched this Cardinal team as many of you have. There have been times of elation, times of frustration, times of great success, times of bitter disappointment. We were able to see clutch wins against Central Michigan and Buffalo, as the Cards performed like the Cards we all expected and wanted. We watched a season opening win against Southeast Missouri State that seemed to blow the stench of a 2-10 2009 right out the door in 60 minutes of an FCS sacrificial lamb victory. We also saw a frustrating but well needed victory over Akron. Of course the good was tempered with bads, and most folks sit and wonder what could have been had we somehow managed a victory over Liberty, Eastern Michigan, or Purdue… games that BSU all had within their grasp. The short answer was if all three of those go the Cards’ way, then they’re most likely bowling regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s Bronze Stalk game, but alas, that isn’t the case.

When the clock reads zero on Saturday afternoon, the result will have no meaning on the closing date of the Cards season. At 5-7 with a win or 4-8 without, the Cardinals season will be done all the same. However, that one game difference between 4 and 5 this particular year makes all the difference in the world.

Let’s be honest, kiddies. NIU is a hell of a football team. They are clearly the class of the MAC and have pretty much run roughshod over the conference. Their closest MAC game was a 28-21 victory at Western Michigan, but for the most part it’s been a tour de force of ass kicking and name taking. Aside from the WMU game, the Huskies have yet to be challenged in conference, and they’ve scored in the 30s every game, save for the three that they scored 45, 50, and 65. With a win Saturday the Huskies clinch the MAC West and the reward of a trip to Detroit for the MAC Championship.

Perhaps what’s most troublesome is the skill of this team. This isn’t a one-trick pony that simply uses a gimmick offense or exploits one talented player all over the field. Their bread and butter is the rush, and senior Chad Spann is over 1000 yards with 15 TDs with two games to go.  Junior QB Chandler Harnish is not someone that will dazzle you with stats and 400+ yard games, but he is someone who manages the offense and prevents mistakes. Perhaps that’s why the Huskies are +8 in turnover margin this season… which leads the MAC. The icing on this NIU cupcake? Both Harnish and Spann are Indiana products.

Defensively, the Huskies are 5th in the conference in both rush defense and pass defense, and are 3rd in the conference in passes picked off. What’s that mean for BSU? Quite simply, it means consistency, balance, and performance is going to be the key on Saturday. Defenses like NIUs excel against teams that become one-dimensional, so the Cardinals must find a way early to keep the NIU defense back on their heels and unaware of what’s coming. That could mean some sort of trickery, unconventional playcalling, or opening the playbook to the max, but what is needed is striking when the opportunities present themselves and playing with absolute reckless abandon. Unfortunately, this game requires it.

To end this roller coaster season with a defeat of the presumptive MAC West champion would certainly be quite the feather in the cap for the Cardinals, but most importantly, the 17 seniors who will play their final collegiate football game on Saturday. For many, if not all, it will be their final time in pads. This senior class has seen the ultimate highs of an undefeated regular season in 2008, a coaching change before the Bowl, a 2-win 2009, and an opportunity in 2010 to beat a team that many are ranking and finish .500 in the MAC.

As much as it pains me to say it, this isn’t a game where the Cardinals can afford anything going wrong. Ineffective passing game? Game over. Rushing attack not generating offense? Game over. Turning the ball over? Game over. Not pressuring Chandler Harnish and letting him carve the secondary? Game over. Letting Chad Spann cut through the defensive front and reach the second level consistently? Game definitely over. But the curious thing about football is that despite what should happen, sometimes should just never shows up. And say should doesn’t show up on Saturday. What if what shouldn’t happen does? What an appropriately fitting way for 2010 to draw to a close.

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