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There was never much of a doubt this season that the Northern Illinois Huskies were going to be playing in the MAC Championship Game this December, but who their opponent would be was very much so up in the air. In a vicious three team battle that came down to the very last second of the very last game, the Miami Redhawks got the job done and are here in Motown ready to pull off what would be a shocking upset of a team that just finally cracked into the Top 25.
Matchup: Miami Redhawks vs. Northern Illinois Huskies
Date: Friday, December 3rd, 7:00 ET
Location: Ford Field, Detroit, MI
Game Line: Northern Illinois -18
Redhawks Notes: Things aren't going all that well for the Redhawks right now, as they know that they have a huge mountain to climb in this game. They did finish up the regular season with four straight wins both SU and ATS and took a year in which might not have ended in a bowl game and made it a guarantee. It's unfortunately that QB Zac Dysert won't be here to join in the celebration of winning the East Division of the MAC, as he has a ruptured spleen that will keep him out of the fold until the bowl game, only if it is played late in December or in January. Dysert threw for 2,406 yards and 13 TDs this year against a dozen INTs, and he was a tremendous asset to a team that went just 1-11 last year. Now, the ball belongs to QB Austin Boucher, who has thrown for 498 yards and has led the team to two wins in its final two games this year. RB Thomas Merriweather has come quite some way as well. The senior was thrown out of the first game of the year against the Florida Gators, and he fell out of favor for quite some time with his team. However, over the last three games, he has been the brightest star on the team. The Redhawks' back has rumbled for at least 80 yards in three straight, and at least 140 in his last two since Dysert has been out of the lineup. Merriweather has also scored in four consecutive games, and one would like to think that that number needs to reach five for the Redhawks to have a chance of pulling off this upset. Don't rest on this 'D' either. Miami has a defense that has allowed just 339.1 yards per game on the season, one of the best totals in the MAC and ranking No. 39 in the country.
Huskies Notes: Then there are the Huskies, who have not just been beating teams this year, but they have been beating them down as well. If not for a push against the Western Michigan Broncos, this would be a team with ten covers on the campaign, and ten straight at that. Since losing to the Illinois Fighting Illini in Champaign back in September, the Huskies have rolled off ten straight wins. The last three victories have come with at least 59 points hitting the scoreboard. Northern Illinois has outscored its foes by almost three full TDs this year. The 'O' ranks No. 17 in the country at 454.0 yards per game, while the 'D' is conceding just 18.5 points and 319.6 yards per game. All of those numbers are tops for teams in the MAC. QB Chandler Harnish has had a fantastic season this year, and he is taking care of the pigskin. Harnish has completed 66.0 percent of his passes for 1,949 yards with 17 scores and just five INTs. On the ground, there are few like RB Chad Spann in the country. Spann will absolutely earn a bunch of All-MAC honors for his 2010 campaign in which he rushed for 1,239 yards and a whopping 20 TDs. Over his last five games, Spann has rushed for at least 70 yards in all five and has scored a total of 12 times. Harnish has also added 761 yards on the ground for a team that is averaging just over 280 rushing yards per game. NIU has always been one of the better teams that this conference has to offer, but when push really came to shove over the last four seasons, QB Dan LeFevour and the Central Michigan Chippewas often ruled the day. Now's the time for the Huskies to shine.
The Final Word: Though NIU isn't going let that opportunity go, we still have to realize that this is a conference championship game between two teams that are awfully solid. No, the Redhawks aren't going to be the victorious team in this one, and it probably wouldn't have mattered whether Dysert played or not. The Huskies dumped the rest of the contenders in the MAC in the regular season, but they hasn't gotten their hands on Miami yet. The Redhawks will represent well, but come up short by a comfortable margin to give NIU the league title.
MAC Championship Game Picks: Miami +18
Prediction: Northern Illinois 37 – Miami 24