Northern Illinois (4-0) at Kent State (2-3) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dix Stadium (25,319) -- Kent, Ohio. Television: Time Warner Sports, ESPN3. Home Record: NIU 1-0, KSU 1-1. Away Record: NIU 3-0, KSU 1-2. Neutral Record: NIU 0-0, KSU 0-0. Conference Record: NIU 0-0, KSU 1-1. Series Record: Northern Illinois leads, 17-7.
GAME NOTES: Dix Stadium will host a rematch of the 2012 MAC Championship on Saturday when the Northern Illinois Huskies and Kent State Golden Flashes square off for the 25th time in history.
NIU outlasted Kent State for a 44-37 victory in double overtime at Ford Field on Nov. 30, 2012 to claim its second MAC Championship in a row. The victory propelled the Huskies into the Orange Bowl and also yielded a head coaching offer at NC State for Dave Doeren, who left for Raleigh before the team's loss to Florida State in the postseason.
Rod Carey was hired on a full-time basis after he coached NIU in its 31-10 loss to FSU. NIU became the first MAC school in history to defeat two Big Ten schools in the same season last week as it coasted to a 55-24 decision over Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium. The Huskies also defeated Iowa (30-27), Idaho (45-35) and Eastern Illinois (43-39) on their way to a 4-0 record. They own the longest active conference winning streak at 17 games and have won their last 11 away contests, which gives them the second-longest road winning streak to only Oregon (16).
Kent State ended a three-game losing slide and improved to 1-1 in conference play with a 32-14 victory at Western Michigan last week. The Golden Flashes had lost to Bowling Green, LSU and Penn State prior to the much needed win. Paul Haynes is in his first season as a head coach. He replaced Darrell Hazell, who left to take over the Purdue program.
Hazell failed to avenge the MAC Championship last week as his Boilermakers had no answer for NIU's superstar quarterback. The Huskies have gone 16-2 since Jordan Lynch took over the position before the 2012 season. The dual-threat senior led the way last week with 207 yards and three touchdowns on 18-of-25 passing. Lynch also racked up 35 yards rushing before he was relieved early in the fourth quarter due to the lopsided score. Lynch was phenomenal during NIU's run to a BCS bowl last season. He was honored as a Second-Team All-American and also named the MAC Player of the Year after he completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns against just six interceptions. He also set the NCAA record for a quarterback with 11 consecutive 100-yard rushing performances en route to 1,815 yards and 19 rushing scores.
In the victory over the Boilermakers in week five, Tommylee Lewis made his mark with a 99-yard kick return for a touchdown. NIU finished with 402 total yards and 22 first downs, despite converting on just 4-of-11 attempts on third-down plays. Juwan Brescacin caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown, while Da'Ron Brown also had four receptions for 53 yards and two scores. Cameron Stingily had a team-best 72 yards on 15 rushing attempts.
NIU has not been steady on the defensive side of the ball under Carey, allowing 31.3 ppg through four contests. The Huskies allowed a weak Purdue offense to amass 524 yards of total offense last week. They made up for the high allowance by forcing five turnovers, including a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jimmie Ward. The senior safety has made big plays all season, tallying 39 total stops and three interceptions, as he looks to be on track for his third consecutive selection to an All-MAC team.
Haynes's offense is going to get better as redshirt freshman Colin Reardon develops under center. The rookie signal caller was simply asked to manage the offense last week at Western Michigan and fulfilled his duty with 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception on 17-of-30 passing. Reardon's inexperience led to turnovers against KSU's powerhouse non-conference foes. He should fare better against less talented league foes as he develops week to week.
KSU's offense had not been the same without superstar Dri Archer, who missed most of the season with an ankle injury before returning last week. Archer ran for 73 yards on just six carries and caught four passes for 48 yards and a score in his first game back. Even more importantly, his presence all over the field opened up rushing lanes for Trayion Durham, who racked up 154 yards and two touchdowns on 26 attempts. The two had a combined total of 3,487 rushing and receiving yards in 2012, which gave KSU the top returning running back duo in the FBS. Durham averaged only 3.1 yards per carry and 47.5 rushing yards per game before his running mate's return. Tyshon Goode caught five passes for 57 yards to lead the team against WMU. Junior wideout Chris Humphrey has been a bright spot with 267 yards and two touchdowns on 21 receptions. Goode has also made 21 catches which he has turned into 197 yards.
Senior safety Luke Wollet is the most valuable player on the defensive side of the ball for the Golden Flashes. He has registered 36 total tackles and an interception. Senior defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix is one of the top linemen in the MAC. He is ranked in the top five among active FBS players in career tackles for loss (59.0) and forced fumbles (10).
Reardon will need to limit his turnovers more than ever in this matchup. KSU has allowed its opponent to score on 95.5 percent of its red zone trips. The Golden Flashes will not be able to survive if they offer Lynch favorable field position. Archer could erupt in his second game back after shaking off the rust last week. The speedy senior could give the Golden Flashes a shot at winning if he is at his best.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northern Illinois 38, Kent State 31Game Date and Time
Saturday, October 5, 3:30 p.m. (et)