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NIU Huskies

The NIU Huskies football team are a college football program representing Northern Illinois University (also referred to as "NIU") in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of college football. Rod Carey is NIU's current head coach, the 22nd in the program's history. Northern Illinois plays its home games on Huskie Stadium on the campus of the Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. The Huskies compete in the Mid-American Conference as a member of the West Division.

History

NIU's football program was established in the late 19th century, playing its first ever game against DeKalb High School in 1899 and was led by coach John L. Keith to the team's first ever victory. NIU started out in the independent scene from 1899 through 1919 before joining the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The team became independent again in 1925. NIU returned to the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1928 and finished the season winless for the first time. In 1929 however, Red Evans took over as the head football coach and immediately twisted the downhill fate of his team as he led his squad to a 6-1-1 record. Evans led the Huskies to continuous winning seasons since his take over, and his efforts paid off in 1938 as NIU captured the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship, the team's first title. He followed it up with three more championships (1941, '44, and '46) and even led the Huskies' to a back-to-back bowl game appearance in 1946 and '47 (unfortunately, both on a losing cause to Evansville first in the Turkey Bowl then in the Hoosier Bowl).

In 1950, the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which had dwindled down to only five members (NIU, SIU, EIU, WIU, and ISU) accepted its first members from out of state and changed its name to the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. With the exception of the spotless season (9-0-0) in 1951 that earned the team a 5th conference title, NIU failed to make a decent showing during the first few years in the newly named conference. Howard Fletcher though had other plans as he picked up the pieces of the miserable 0-8-1 season from Robert Kahler in 1956. The Huskies' had a slow progress that picked up in the late 1950s. The team's third bowl game appearance in 1962, although a loss, was only the beginning of good things to come as in the following season, the Huskies completed their sixth undefeated season which earned them the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship, an AP College Division National championship selection, and a ticket to the Mineral Water Bowl which the team eventually won over Missouri State. The team made it a three-peat championship, adding up the 1964 and 1965 conference titles. NIU became independent from 1966 through '72 before joining the Mid-American Athletic Conference in 1973. The team claimed the MAC title in 1983 then went on to their first Bowl Game in the Division I-A, the California Bowl, which the Huskies won over Cal State-Fullerton. The team left the MAC after the 1985 season and first became independent from 1986–92, then joined the Big West Conference from 1993 through '95, becoming independent again in '96, then finally was admitted back into the Mid-American Conference in 1997.

The Joe Novak era (1996–2007)

Joe Novak took over the Huskie program in December 1995, and coached his first NIU game in September 1996. The first 3 years of Novak's tenure proved to be tumultuous, as his Huskie squads won a total of 3 games between 1996 and 1998. Despite this, Novak kept his job and turned the program around. In 1999, Northern Illinois won 5 games, and in 2000 Novak started a string of 7 consecutive winning seasons, going 6-5 in both 2000 and 2001. After a 1-3 start to the 2002 season, fans began to see the fruits of Novak's labor as the team ripped off 7 consecutive wins, and only a 33-30 loss in their final game against rival Toledo prevented a MAC Championship Game appearance.

Optimism was high to start the 2003 season, with 12 returning starters including prospect and future NFL players Michael Turner, Doug Free, Brad Cieslak, P.J. Fleck, Dan Sheldon, Keith Perry, Vinson Reynolds, Akil Grant, Randee Drew, and Travis Moore. On opening weekend, the Huskies beat #14 Maryland 20-17 in overtime. Then, the Huskies traveled to Tuscaloosa and beat #21 Alabama 16-13. After beating Iowa State the following week, the Huskies were rolling and won their first 7 games. Following their week 5 win against Ohio, the first BCS standings were released, and by week 7 the Huskies had climbed to #10 overall. Novak and the Huskies could not keep that momentum going, as they lost in week 8 at #22 Bowling Green, which also featured the first ever ESPN GameDay appearance for a MAC football game. The Huskies would lose only one more game in 2003, to Toledo, finishing the year 10-2, unranked, and uninvited to a bowl game.

Novak's 2004 and 2006 teams both went to bowl games. The 2004 team went to the Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, California and was the first Huskie team to go bowling in 21 years. The Huskies fell behind early 14-0 to a Troy team that featured current NFLer DeMarcus Ware, but were able to rally behind future NFL running back Garrett Wolfe and the accurate passing of Josh Haldi to win 34-21. In 2006, Wolfe and company returned to a bowl, the Poinsettia Bowl, against TCU and lost 37-7.

Novak's final year was a tough one, winning only 2 games and finishing at the bottom of the MAC West. Overall Novak won 63 games as the Huskie's head coach. He currently is retired and resides in North Carolina.

The Huskies finished the 2007 season having produced a 1,000 yard rusher in the previous nine consecutive seasons, starting in 1999, including rushers Thomas Hammock, Michael Turner, Garrett Wolfe and Justin Anderson.