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December 1, 2011
Northern Illinois, Ohio eye MAC crown
Two teams familiar with the MAC title game - but unfamiliar with wearing the conference crown - meet Friday night at Ford Field in Detroit for the title.
Northern Illinois (9-3) is playing in its second consecutive title game and its third in seven seasons. But the Huskies haven't won the MAC since 1983. Ohio (9-3) is playing in the championship game for the third time in six seasons, but the Bobcats haven't been conference champs since 1968.
NIU has been an upset victim in its past two visits to Detroit, losing 26-21 to Miami last season and 31-30 to Akron in 2005. Both losses came in the final minute. Ohio fell to Central Michigan in 2006 and '09.
High-powered offenses have propelled both teams all season. NIU, guided by dual-threat quarterback Chandler Harnish, is ninth in the nation in total offense at 488.2 yards per game. Ohio, led by dual-threat quarterback Tyler Tettleton, is 18th in total offense at 464.4 yards per game.
"People watching the game will have the privilege of watching two really good quarterbacks play," said NIU coach Dave Doeren, in his first season with the Huskies after spending five seasons as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator.
Harnish, a senior, has thrown for 2,692 yards and 23 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. He also has rushed for 1,351 yards and 11 scores. He's the nation's leading rusher among quarterbacks, and has had six 100-yard games as a runner and three 300-yard games as a passer.
Tettleton, a sophomore who is the son of former major-league catcher Mickey Tettleton, has thrown for 2,868 yards and 26 TDs, with seven picks. He has run for another 584 yards and eight touchdowns.
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"I think their quarterback, Tettleton, is a really fun player to watch and a tough player to defend," Doeren said. "I really enjoy watching the way he plays the game."
Both teams have fared well in close games; each is 4-2 in games decided by seven or fewer points. That's a huge plus for NIU, wide receiver Nathan Palmer said.
"Last year, we kind of went through the MAC where we didn't have too many tough games," he said. "We got in that [title] game last year and didn't know how to respond to being down and being in a fight. This year, we've been in a lot of close battles. … I think we're more prepared for anything."
Ohio coach Frank Solich, who has a chance to lead the Bobcats to their first 10-win season since 1968, also thinks the close games have steeled his team.
"It's been one of those years that our team has found a way to win, in most cases," he told reporters earlier this week.
A potential advantage for Solich's team is that Ohio is much better against the run than NIU. Ohio allows just 124.0 rushing yards per game; NIU surrenders 182.1.
"Their offense is putting up 500 yards a game almost every week," Doeren said. "We have a challenge, obviously, a huge challenge handling their skill not just with our defense but with our special teams."
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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