Ford Field – Detroit, Michigan
Way back in August, the Buffalo Bulls and Northern Illinois Huskies were both considered among the top teams in the Mid-American Conference. Months later, they have earned the right to meet for a MAC title.
Buffalo reaches the title game for the . . .
Northern Illinois was favored to win the Western Division. After a slow start, the Huskies used a six-game winning streak to power them to their seventh Western Division Championship in the last nine seasons.
Friday’s game is the 13th lifetime meeting between the two schools. It is the first as a MAC Championship game matchup. NIU holds a decisive 11-1 edge in the series, including last year’s 14-13 win in Western New York as the Huskies built 14-0 halftime lead and withstood a second half comeback by UB.
Buffalo’s only win in the series came in 1968 -- the first ever meeting between the programs.
BUFFALO BULLS (10-2, 7-1 MAC)
➤➤ Last Friday in Bowling Green, the Bulls clinched their first Eastern Division title since 2008 as they routed the Falcons 44-14, rebounding from the 52-17 loss at Ohio.
➤➤ This is the third overall East title for UB and second outright (in 2007 they shared the title with Miami. MU went onto the title game, losing to Central Michigan).
➤➤ The victory was Buffalo’s 10th of the season -- the first time ever in school history that UB has registered double-digit wins.
➤➤ The seven wins in MAC play wsa Buffalo’s most since joining the conference in 1999.
➤➤ UB was selected to finish second to Ohio in the Eastern Division pre-season polls.
➤➤ The Bulls started their season with four straight wins (including a road win over Temple and the MAC opener against Eastern Michigan). It was their best start to a season since 1959
➤➤ UB had a seven-game winning streak dating back to last season before it lost at home to the Black Knights of Army West Point 42-13. After the loss, the Bulls went on a five-game skein, which included their first ever wins at Central Michigan and at Toledo, before losing to the Bobcats
➤➤ Head coach Lance Leipold is completing seventh season as the Bulls head coach. He owns a 23-25 record with UB and is 133-31 overall, including his time as head coach at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater
➤➤ This is UB’s second visit to the championship game. The other trip came in 2008 (led by QB Drew Willy and RB James Starks), when Buffalo upset the previously undefeated Ball State Cardinals 42-24.
➤➤ During the regular season., Buffalo averaged 35.2 points and 419.4 yards. It was third in scoring average behind Ohio and Toledo.
➤➤ UB has one of the best rushing attacks in the league, averaging 200.3 yards a game. It was their biggest offensive weapon late in the season
➤➤ The Bulls running game is led by a pair of freshmen. Jace Patterson ran for 874 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Kevin Marks added 733 yards and 11 scores.
➤➤ Junior QB Tyree Jackson completed 55 percent of his passes (187-of-357) for 2605 yards and 25 touchdowns. Jackson was second to Bowling Green’s Jarret Doege in both categories.
➤➤ The receiving corps is led by junior K. J. Osborn, who had 46 catches for 789 yards and six touchdowns, as well as senior Anthony Johnson, who had 45 receptions for 820 yards
➤➤ The offensive line protected Jackson almost immaculately, allowing just eight sacks.
➤➤ The Bulls defense allowed 24.2 points (third best in the MAC) and 344.4 yards (second fewest to NIU). Collectively they registered 30 sacks., 13 interceptions, 18 passes defensed, 53 pass breakups, had 18 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries
➤➤ Senior LB Khalil Hodge leads the Bulls defenders with 129 total stops (50 solo). Last week against BGSU he surpassed the 400-total tackle mark for his career. He is the second defender in Bulls history with three consecutive 100-plus tackle seasons
➤➤ Senior DE Chuck Harris has five sacks for 34 yards.
➤➤ Senior DB Cameron Lewis is one of the top defenders in the MAC with three interceptions (tied for second) along with nine passes defended
➤➤ UB’s 423 total points this season is one shy of the school mark set in 2008
➤➤ Buffalo became the first MAC team this season to become bowl eligible. It is one of three teams out of the Eastern Division (Ohio Miami are the others)
➤➤ Chuck Harris, K.J. Osborn, Cameron Lewis, and freshman P Evan Finegan are natives of Detroit and will be playing in front of family and friends
➤➤ The title game will be Buffalo’s first in a domed facility since the 2008 International Bowl in Toronto (Rogers Centre), UB lost to Connecticut 38-20.
➤➤ The Huskies come to the championship game carrying a two-game losing streak after falling in the regular-season finale at Western Michigan 28-21. Miami edged NIU in DeKalb the previous week.
➤➤ NIU reached the title game for the eighth time in school history when it defeated Toledo at home on November 7, 38-15.
➤➤ The Huskies are 3-4 in MAC Championship games, losing their last visit to Detroit in 2015 to Bowling Green 34-14. Their wins came in 2011 (23-20 over Miami), 2012 (44-37 over Kent State in double overtime), and 2014 (over BGSU 51-17).
➤➤ In the pre-season poll, the Huskies were favored to win the Western Division. They opened the season losing three of their first four games ( at Iowa, vs Utah, and at Florida State). The lone win in that stretch was the MAC opener at home over Central Michigan.
➤➤ Starting with an overtime win at Eastern Michigan on September 29, Northern Illinois began a six-game winning streak that would lead to the West title. The stretch included road wins at Ball State, Akron, and BYU, as well as a home win over Ohio, who was leading the Eastern Division at the time
➤➤ Head coach Ron Carey is completing his sixth season at the helm in DeKalb. He has a 51-29 overall record and is 38-10 in MAC play
➤➤ The NIU offense ranked near the bottom of the conference in points (19.9 ppg) and and yards (318 ypg).
➤➤ Sophomore RB Tre Harbison led the rushing attack with 950 yards (third overall in the MAC) and four touchdowns
➤➤ Sophomore QB Marcus Childress has completed 57 percent of his passes (191-of-336) for 1,696 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 438 yards and six scores.
➤➤ D.J. Brown leads the receivers with 51 receptions for 400 and three touchdowns.
➤➤ The offensive line has allowed 31 sacks coming into the championship game.
➤➤ The strength of the Huskies is their defense. They allowed the fewest average points (20.9) and fewest yards (344.0) per game in the conference and their rushing defense was tops -- allowing only 107 yards per game.
➤➤ As a unit, the Huskies have 46 sacks (tops in the MAC) seven interceptions, 13 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries and 29 pass breakups.
➤➤ LB Antonio-Jones Davis has 104 total tackles on the season (55 solo).
➤➤ Junior DE Sutton Smith, the 2017 and 2018 MAC Defensive Player of the Year leads the conference with 19 total tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. In addition he has blocked two kicks ( NIU has had five blocks so far in 2018)
➤➤ NIU has won 25 of its last 27 games against the Eastern Division (going 2-1 this season, with wins over Ohio and Akron while losing to Miami
➤➤ CB Jalen Embry, special teams standout Zhamaine March, WR Rodney Hall are from Southeastern Michigan and will be playing in front of family and friends.
➤➤ The matchup with the Bulls means NIU has faced every Eastern Division team in the championship game at some point.
➤➤ Northern Illinois became bowl eligible for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons with its 36-26 win at Akron on November 1. NIU is one of four teams from the Western Division to gain bowl eligibility this year. (Toledo, Western Michigan, and Eastern Michigan the others)
➤➤ NIU’s run of bowl eligibility is matched by one other school within the “Group of Five” -- that being Boise State (Mountain West), also with 10.