Spotlight turns on Northern Illinois' Top 25 showdown

Friday, October 24, 2003

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio -- Gregg Brandon insists that No. 23 Bowling Green's matchup with 12th-ranked Northern Illinois is no bigger than any other conference game.

But even the coach can't stop himself from talking about how big this is to the Mid-American Conference.

"This may not ever come around again," Brandon said. "To have this kind of attention in Bowling Green for the whole day, we're the college football capital of the world for one day."

It's not that far-fetched.

Northern Illinois (7-0, 3-0 MAC) is just one of four unbeaten teams remaining in major college football and making a bid for a major bowl appearance. The Huskies must win to keep their shot alive.

Bowling Green (6-1, 3-0 MAC) gave Purdue its only loss of the season while losing just once -- at Ohio State 17-10.

Live on the air

The game on Saturday will mark the first time a Bowling Green home game has been on national television -- ESPN2. And ESPN's "College GameDay" will bring its traveling roadshow to the campus.

It's also the first sellout for 28,599-seat Doyt Perry Stadium in 20 years.

Still, Brandon is trying to downplay it all.

"It's a big game but certainly not bigger than any other," he said. "There's still a lot of football left after this one."

His players know they can't get caught up in the excitement.

"It would be real easy to get caught up in the hype," said defensive back Janssen Patton. "But if we do that, by the time we get to Saturday we'll be exhausted.

"We need to take it slow and build up to Saturday," he said.

Falcons defensive lineman Matt Thaler broke into a wide grin just thinking about how much this means to the school.

"This is the kind of week you dream about," he said.

"Just going to class I've heard so many people talking the game," Thaler said. "A lot of them probably haven't even been to one of our games."

The Huskies know they could be walking into a trap.

"There is going to be a jacked up crowd," said center Todd Ghilani. "When you're younger it's tougher to play on the road. When you are a junior and senior you learn to focus."

A key for Northern Illinois will be not to fall behind early.

The Huskies have trailed in every game this year except last week's victory over Western Michigan. Two of their wins came in overtime.

Even though Northern Illinois has beaten Maryland, Iowa State and Alabama this season, Huskies coach Joe Novak said this week's game is much bigger.

"No offense to Alabama, I'd rather win this one," Novak said.

A year ago the roles were reversed. Bowling Green was undefeated and ranked in the Top 25 until Northern Illinois knocked off the Falcons 26-17.

"It's not very hard to not focus on the hype and focus on Northern Illinois," said Bowling Green quarterback Josh Harris. "Northern was the team that beat us last year. We don't want to get beat by them twice."

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