This is Huskie Country, and this year, Northern Illinois football fans can be very proud of their team.
Sure, they couldn’t pull the upset against Florida State in the Orange Bowl in Miami on Tuesday. But that’s really beside the point.
The 2012 Huskies gave our community the most exciting and successful college football season it has ever seen. They put Victor E. Huskie and legions of students, alumni and loyal fans on the national stage, playing in a BCS bowl game on New Year’s Day on ESPN.
Who would have dreamed of that possibility after a season such as 2003, when running back Michael Turner and the Huskies went 10-2, beat ranked opponents Maryland and Alabama, and still didn’t even draw a bowl invite?
So of course the jabber from national analysts such as the now-known Kirk Herbstreit from ESPN was aggravating.
But don’t be fooled: The Huskies absolutely deserved to be playing in the Orange Bowl. They earned the right, and although they didn’t come out on top, they were still winners.
The flawed BCS system, a contrivance that reinforces the elitism in NCAA football, has to include at least a small opportunity for teams like NIU to play in the big games. But it’s much harder for a Mid-American Conference team like the Huskies to get in than it is for, say, Wisconsin or Louisville.
But the Huskies cleared every hurdle. They beat the odds and became the first MAC team to play in a BCS bowl game. The school and the athletic program could reap real benefits from the exposure.
And people were watching: Ratings for this year’s Orange Bowl were up 44 percent from last year, which featured West Virginia laying a 70-33 beating on Clemson. Those schools are both from traditional power conferences. Ratings in the Chicago TV market were the second-highest ESPN ever has had for a bowl game, the network said.
This NIU team also delivered back-to-back Mid-American Conference championships in finishing with a school-record 12 wins. Quarterback Jordan Lynch and his teammates thrilled us with an exciting, high-powered offense that had the cannon at Huskie Stadium booming again and again, all season long.
It doesn’t matter what some faraway TV talkers think, or that the final score on Tuesday wasn’t in the Huskies’ favor.
We’re grateful to the 2012 NIU team for putting Huskie Country on the map like never before, and we hope Coach Rod Carey and next year’s group can find a way to do it again.
We could get used to this.