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Countdown to NIU

OTP Countdown200Hyperbole in sports is one of the most overused things from a journalism perspective and a marketing slant. Every game is a big one. Every game has an angle that makes it must watch. Every player is a star. Seldom does reality live up to the billing, because most times, it’s just that: fiction forced on the public through a clumsily constructed narrative to ensure plenty of eyeballs and channel clicks to the game in question. Tonight, though, in Dekalb hyperbole isn’t needed one bit. This one is massive and everyone knows it. We don’t need Chris Fowler or Kirk Herbstreit to educate us dimwitted simpletons about why we should watch it. We all know the deal.

When BSU and NIU finish up in the late evening hours of Wednesday night, one of two things will have happened. Either it is a coronation and confirmation of NIU being the current class of the MAC and head and shoulders above their conference brethren, or it will signal a changing of the guard in the MAC with an announcement that one BCS bid a year ago does not a dynasty make. No matter who wins, a statement is made, a program cemented or defined, and a coach’s legacy written in ink. It’s not hyperbole. It’s fact.

The underdog Cardinals come in with a loss on the record, a chip on the shoulder, and no ranking in front of their name. The MAC headlines this season have been almost exclusively about the undefeated Huskies and their Heisman hopeful Jordan Lynch. With good reason, too, as Lynch has set records left and right while leading the Huskies to a #15 ranking and a spotless 9-0 record, after taking NIU to the Orange Bowl last season. But down the road in Muncie resides a QB that has rewritten his share of records and defined a program along the way as well. For Keith Wenning, tonight’s contest could be the impressive cherry on an otherwise already impressive sundae. He’s led the Cards back from the brink of irrelevance to what will be their 2nd consecutive bowl at the conclusion of this season. A win tonight means the Cardinals clinch the MAC West and will be vying for the MAC Championship in Detroit on December 6th. Suffice to say, tonight is big. Huge. Massive. Insert your favorite adjective. It’s time to count you down to NIU…

5 Things to Know

  • Surprisingly enough, and even with the recent dominance by NIU, Ball State leads the overall series with the Huskies 20-18-2. However, the road team fares quite well when these two match up. The Cardinals have a 11-8-2 advantage in Dekalb and the Huskies lead 10-9 in Muncie.
  • When it comes to streaks, NIU has a few of the most commanding you’ll find. The Huskies have won 22 straight conference games, dating back to 2011 for the longest in-conference win streak in the nation. The Huskies have also won 24 straight home games, dating back to 2009, meaning the current senior class has never lost a game in Dekalb.
  • Speaking of streaks, if the broadcast coverage is any indication it could be a big night for NIU. The Huskies have won 6 consecutive games of theirs televised on ESPN2. The Deuce has coverage tonight as well.
  • Some offenses start slow and close late while others come out of the gate fast and take their foot off the gas once they can. NIU is neither. The Huskies have scored a touchdown in 12 straight quarters and have put points on the scoreboard in 35 of 36 quarters this season.
  • This is the 6th year that this game has a trophy that is given to the winner in The Bronze Stalk. Since the Bronze Stalk has been created and given, NIU is 4-1, winning the last 4 against BSU. The Cardinals did win the inaugural Bronze Stalk in 2008.

4 Players to Know

  • QB Jordan Lynch – Anyone that follows college football has heard of Jordan Lynch. A dual-threat senior QB that has more career rushing yards than anyone else in college football currently. He’s a Heisman candidate, 21-2 as NIU’s starting QB, and has 22 straight games with a touchdown pass. He’s good, we get it.
  • DT Ken Bishop – Bishop has been named MAC West Defensive Player of the Week twice in the 2013 season, and leads all defensive linemen in tackles, and also picked up his first interception this season as well.
  • S Jimmie Ward – Is tied for 6th in the country with 5 INTs this season and is a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back. He also ranks second on the team in tackles behind Bishop.
  • RB Cameron Stingily – Though clearly the second rushing option behind Lynch, Stingily is extremely capable of creating chaos for the BSU defense. Perhaps most troublesome is his ability to remain upright and gaining after contact, getting 563 of his 784 yards after the first hit. He is also capable of shouldering the load, as he did against Kent State, rushing 37 times for 266 yards.

3 Ways We Win

  • Understand that stopping Jordan Lynch is not possible and limiting him may be hard to do – Jordan Lynch is going to get yards tonight. Mobile QBs usually do against this defensive unit, and he’s quite good. So that means stopping him becomes impossible for a lengthy game. However, stopping him in big spots like critical third downs is doable and needs to happen. Not letting him bust an untouched 70 yard TD would be nice as well.
  • Win the turnover battle – Both these teams are top 15 nationally in turnover margin with BSU at +10 and NIU at +9 for the season. In a shootout as this game may become, possessions are critical and wasting opportunities by turning the ball over puts a team behind the eight ball.
  • Limit penalties and let NIU beat themselves – BSU is one of the least penalized teams in the nation and NIU is one of the most. As we talked about on this week’s OTPcast, when two teams are so similarly built and matched up, it’s often the intangibles that mean the difference between winning and losing. BSU has to limit penalties on their end and allow NIU to make their normal amount, extending Cardinal drives and bettering BSU field position in the process.

2 Cardinal Questions

  • Can Rod Carey and the Huskies beat Pete Lembo three straight times? If I’m an athletic director I take Pete Lembo over Rod Carey every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Tonight, Pete Lembo is facing NIU for the third straight time with the first two being losses. Good coaches don’t lose three straight times to a conference rival.
  • Does Keith Wenning take this opportunity to announce his own excellence to a national audience that may not be familiar with him? The eyes of the nation are going to be all over ESPN2 for this showdown. Most will have already heard of Jordan Lynch. This is Keith Wenning’s opportunity to put his name next to Lynch’s in the conversation of Best MAC QB.

1 Bold Prediction

On this week’s OTPcast, I predicted a very specific outcome, and one that I’ll stick with. I think it’s a back and forth shootout throughout the night with ebbs and flows that may see either team up by 10 to 14 at various points. Inevitably it tightens up and the fourth quarter becomes a shootout in every sense of the word. The final BSU drive gets extended by an NIU penalty and that moves the Cardinals into field goal range for a Scott Secor kick as time expires, winning the game for BSU 52-49 and sending BSU to Detroit for the MAC Championship.

No liveblog tonight for the festivities because I’m going to be a nervous wreck, but you can follow along with us on Twitter here. You can also join us and Friends of the Pylon with the official OTP BSUvNIU Drinking Game found here and tweet us with #BSUDrink. We’ll keep you abreast of the festivities with that hashtag as well. 8pm ET, ESPN2, Go Cards!!

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