MAC Championship preview: NIU-Bowling Green
Northern Illinois and Bowling Green will battle for the second consecutive year in Detroit for the MAC championship, one year after the Falcons delivered the Huskies their first loss and eliminated them from major bowl contention.
It's a treat when these teams meet because they have only played once in the regular season since 2011. Let's take a look at what could be in store for Friday night's contest at Ford Field.
Northern Illinois (10-2, 7-1 MAC) vs. Bowling Green (7-5, 5-3 MAC)
7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Bowling Green has an 11-7 series edge.
— The Huskies need to establish their ground game, as their rushing attack is one of the best in the MAC at 246.2 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Drew Hare (790 rushing yards) leads the way, but a deep pool of running backs help out as well, led by Cameron Stingily. Joel Bouagnon and Akeem Daniels will also get carries. If the Falcons can shut down the Huskies' ground game, it may be difficult for NIU to move the ball through the air despite Hare only having tossed one interception. Rod Carey's squad only averages 187.2 passing yards per game, so this will not be a potent passing attack if the ground game isn't successful. The Falcons allowed 325 rushing yards to Toledo, so NIU should be successful on the ground.
— The Falcons need quarterback James Knapke to play well on Friday night. Dino Babers and Co. have lost three of their last five games, and the ineffectiveness of Knapke has been one of the culprits. Star signal-caller Matt Johnson was lost for the season in the opener, of course, so the sophomore Knapke has had to endure baptism by fire throughout the year. In his last four games, he has tossed just two touchdown passes despite having a nice group of receivers. The comeback of running back Travis Greene from injury was big for the offense in the season finale, so he'll need to be effective on Friday night. But there's no doubt that the key to a Bowling Green victory is strong play from Knapke.
Notes: Bowling Green is looking to win its 12th league title and become the first back-to-back MAC champions since NIU in 2011-12 ... Northern Illinois has won at least 10 games in each of its past five seasons and has made five straight conference championship appearances (the second-longest in Division I history) ... The Falcons lead the MAC with 27 turnovers caused, while the Huskies rank second in the FBS in fewest turnovers lost (eight).
Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.