Coming off the most successful season in school history, three straight years with 11 wins or more and back-to-back Mid-American Conference Championships, Northern Illinois will face one of its most challenging schedules in recent seasons according to the 2013 slate released Friday by Northern Illinois and the Mid-American Conference.
With five home games at Huskie Stadium, where NIU has won 21 straight games, but only one home contest in the first six weeks of the season, Northern Illinois will be tested early before finishing with a MAC West midweek gauntlet in November featuring consecutive contests versus Ball State, Toledo and Western Michigan.
The Huskies will take on five teams that played in bowl games a year ago.
“With only three of the first nine games at home, the 2013 schedule presents a great challenge for our team,” said NIU first-year head coach Rod Carey.
“We look forward to meeting the challenge head on. With just five home games, we expect and need Huskie Stadium to be filled every time we are there. We’ve had quite a run at home, and we need great fan support to keep our streak alive with the quality of opponents coming to Huskie Stadium this year.”
Northern Illinois will play two Big Ten teams in the same season for the first time since 2010 as the Huskies open the 2013 campaign at Iowa on Aug. 31 and travel to West Lafayette, Ind. to face Purdue Sept. 28, bookending NIU’s non-conference slate
After enjoying a rare September open date on Sept. 7, NIU will play Idaho in the Kibbie Dome in Moscow on Sept. 14 before opening its home schedule versus Eastern Illinois on Sept. 21.
NIU will open defense of its MAC title with a rematch of last year’s Marathon MAC Championship game at Kent State on Saturday, Oct. 5. Northern Illinois defeated the Golden Flashes, 44-37, in double overtime in the 2012 Marathon MAC Championship game at Detroit’s Ford Field. The victory vaulted NIU to a No. 15 BCS Ranking and a spot in the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl.
Northern Illinois plays its first league home game Oct. 12 when Akron visits for Homecoming 2013.
The Huskies are back on the road the next week (Oct. 19) at Central Michigan, where NIU has not won since 2005. Northern Illinois closes out October in DeKalb versus Eastern Michigan, then makes its first visit to Massachusetts on Nov. 3. The Minutemen and Huskies will meet at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, the home of the New England Patriots. It will be Northern Illinois’ fourth game in an NFL stadium in the last two seasons as NIU played in the homes of the Chicago Bears (Soldier Field), Detroit Lions (Ford Field) and Miami Dolphins (Sun Life Stadium) last season.
Northern Illinois will be featured on an ESPN network in each of its final three games as part of an extensive MAC schedule of midweek games on the worldwide leader in 2013.
The Huskies will welcome Ball State to Huskie Stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 13, in a game that will air on either ESPNU or ESPN2. A week later, Northern Illinois faces MAC West rival Toledo at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, marking the fourth straight year, and the seventh time since 2004, that the MAC West heavyweights will meet in a mid-week, nationally televised game.
Six days later, NIU closes out the regular season versus Western Michigan on Tuesday, Nov. 26 on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. (CT). The game will be played in advance of the Illinois High School Association’s Football Championship weekend to be played at Huskie Stadium on Thanksgiving Weekend for the first time. The Marathon Mid-American Conference Championship game will be played Friday, Dec. 6, 2013 at 7 p.m. (CT) on ESPN2 at Ford Field. NIU has played in each of the last three Marathon MAC Championship games, which Carey knows puts a target on the Huskies.
“We know we are always going to get everyone’s best week in and week out,” Carey said. “That’s been true for over a decade and won’t be any different this year.”
Northern Illinois had 13 games broadcast a year ago, with eight contests televised, including the Huskies’ historic appearance in the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl
With three national television games already on the schedule, NIU Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Jeff Compher is confident Huskie fans will have multiple opportunities to see NIU play on television, and hopes that the proximity of the Huskies’ away games will allow fans to travel to see the team in person.
“Northern Illinois is becoming a national brand across the college football landscape, and our national television appearances on the ESPN networks over the last decade have certainly contributed to that,” Compher said.
“Our coaches and players love playing the spotlight of a national television game, our alumni throughout the country connect with NIU through these games and our university enjoys tremendous exposure when we play on TV. With some of the most important games of the season played on weeknights in November, our fans have responded by filling Huskie Stadium in the past, and we look for the same kind of support for this team in 2013.”
The Mid-American Conference and NIU will announce games that will be televised as part of the ESPN Regional Television (ERT) over-the-air syndication package, additional locally televised games and game times later this spring.
NIU opens 2013 spring practices Wednesday, March 20, with the spring game slated for 2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at Huskie Stadium.
Season tickets for the Huskies’ five-game home schedule are on sale through the NIU Athletics External Office with prices beginning at just $50 for the brand new Huskieland Plan. To purchase season tickets or for more information, call (815) 753-1923.
Northern Illinois returns 14 starters (eight offense, five defense, one specialist) in 2013, led by dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch, a 2012 second-team All-American who accounted for nearly 5,000 yards of total offense while setting NCAA records for rushing by a quarterback with 12 100-yard rushing games. Leading tackler Jimmie Ward and the Huskies’ entire offensive line are among the 55 returning letterwinners for 2013.