Tate: If NIU can do it ...

Tate: If NIU can do it ...

It was 2003, nine years ago, when Northern Illinois rocked the football world by defeating Maryland, Alabama’s Crimson Tide (yes, the same) and Iowa State in a 10-2 football season.

That focused attention on Joe Novak’s DeKalb operation, and they’ve come to be perceived as one of the nation’s overachieving teams.

Sure, they’ve lost 11 of 13 to the Big Ten, but they’re extremely competitive, falling to Iowa 18-17 this season and 28-22 at Illinois in 2010. After Saturday’s win, the Huskies are on an 18-for-19 roll in the Mid-American Conference.

How are they doing it? Former administators and media followers offer interesting observations. Let me enumerate their thoughts.

— Admissions welcome marginal students, including junior college transfers, and they tend to stay eligible.

— Novak and Jerry Kill found a niche in Chicago athletic circles, Kill pinpointing speedy, lighter athletes who have the potential to grow. Kill brought key staffers with him for a three-year term, and called his weight coach most important.

— President John Peters has supported a strong investment in athletics, as shown by facilities and the budget.

— The Huskies schedule bigger programs and enjoy their underdog role, beating Purdue in 2009, Minnesota and Fresno State in 2010, Army twice, and Kansas last month. Now they’re headed for their fifth straight bowl game.
Credit Northern Illinois for making the most of their opportunities.

Saturday’s leftovers
You may recognize a contrast here. The Illini must be overtaking UCLA (5-2 with a win over Nebraska) for the dubious dishonor as Yahoo! Sports’ “most underachieving team” of the decade, having produced just one first down in the second half of Saturday’s 45-0 loss at Michigan.

Down 17-0 at the break, the UI’s first six possessions backfired with (1) a first-down interception, (2) a 7-yard loss, (3) a lost fumble, (4) a 15-yard penalty, (5) two completed passes for minus yardage and (6) a sack. That’s when I boarded the elevator and lost track in the rain.

The astonishing second-half stats showed Illinois with 13 net yards — passing AND rushing — on 23 plays, averaging roughly a half-yard per play. The downfield pass has been virtually forgotten, three UI wide receivers catching three balls for three yards.

Illinois is now averaging approximately 9 points per game in a 9-game Big Ten losing streak dating to a 41-20 defeat of Indiana last October.

This Indiana club, like Illinois, is 0-3 in the Big Ten as it arrives here for homecoming in two weeks. But the Hoosiers are producing points and have outscored Illinois 105-21 in Big Ten play. They threatened both Michigan State and Ohio State the last two weeks, coming within 52-49 of the Buckeyes with two touchdowns in the last 1:40.

The right stuff
Kentucky’s continued recruiting of so many one-and-done basketball recruits is unsettling to competitors, but John Calipari’s tactics are well within NCAA rules.
UConn is ineligible for the 2013 NCAA tournament because so many Huskie players left in bad academic standing. In Kentucky’s case, it seems that these athletes are not in violation of the academic progress rule when they leave.
So here we go again. Kentucky has commitments for the November signing period from a trio of top five recruits: 6-6 Michigander James Young and the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron. And Calipari is in the thick of it for Nos. 3 and 6, who hail from Texas and California.
It is extremely difficult for the best players in the Commonwealth to get a scholarship from the state university. Calipari operates from coast to coast, and beyond.
This is their fourth No. 1 class in five years. In basketball, this is Kentucky’s World. Everybody else is just passing through.

Tate’s tidbits

— Rallying Louisiana Tech, now 5-1, came within a failed two-point conversion at :38 of tying Texas A&M (5-1) in a 59-57 thriller.

— High-ranked unbeatens dwindled by two when South Carolina and West Virginia tumbled. That’s two less for Ohio State, Kansas State and Notre Dame to worry about as these teams carrying Midwestern hopes squeezed by.

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calvin wrote on October 16, 2012 at 10:10 am

...wish we would have hired Jerry Kill...........that being said, I hope coach can walk away from the Gopher job before it kills him

Moonpie wrote on October 16, 2012 at 10:10 am

Kentucky's world and everyone else just passing through? Has Kentucky won the national title every year and I just missed it somehow? And isn't the vaunted and great Obi Wan Tate the guy who loves to talk down to fans and remind them that not every top recruit makes good or even lives up to expectations? Yet here he says Kentucky has a top class and so no need for any other teams to show up.

bernies wrote on October 16, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Don't quite get the point of Tate's comments on Calipari and Kentucky? Is he saying that Illinois should try to steal Calipari from KY??  :-)

thehappyhuskie wrote on October 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm

"— Admissions welcome marginal students,"

Lol. good one. You might want to consider this first before making such claims: http://collegefootball.about.com/od/thebcs/a/2012-College-Football-Apr-Scores.htm

Pay particular attention to Nos. 5 and 51.

bernies wrote on October 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Tate's comment about NIU being successful in football because they admit marginal students is kinda funny...

If you look at the US News & World Report's Top 400 Universities in the World list, there are three Big Ten schools listed ahead of Illinois:

* Michigan (#14 in the world academically)

* Northwestern (#24 in the world academically)

* Wisconsin (#41 in the world academically)

* Illinois (#61 in the world academically)

Each of these highly ranked academic schools either has spanked (or probably will spank) the Illini this year in football. So much for the excuse that Illini football sucks because of our high academic standards...

Green Shirt wrote on October 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm


An institution with a very high USN&W rating can have an accomodating admission policy for athletes.  One of the primary reasons Lou Holtz left Notre Dame was because their Director of Admissions was not at all accomodating.  Holtz found recruits who were rejected for admission to Notre Dame being accepted by Michigan, a university that at that time was much higher ranked than Notre Dame.  Bottom Line:  Your point is invalid.

Bob Pedersen wrote on October 17, 2012 at 10:10 am

When a team lacks fundamentals, lack of preparedness, and discipline and a coaching staff that does not understand the players, you get what we have.  Dropped passes,  late hits, uneccessary hits(not hawthorne) makes us pine for Ron Turner.  In the ASU game, they appeared to be surprised at how fast the Sun-Devils ran their offense, followed up by La Tech and they still were not prepared.  On offense in same game, there appeared to be no preparedness for the blitzes.  Same thing at Michigan. 

Looking forward does not bode well, seeing the commits and the other schools offering to to them.  We will be able to compete in the MAC.

OKOMIS wrote on October 17, 2012 at 1:10 pm


Dropped passes??? A Big 10 receiver has to be prepared not to drop a pass?? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.