7:30 PM ET, December 1, 2005
DETROIT -- Mid-American Conference football fans might be a little confused these days.
After all, the conference championship game is Thursday night, and none of the usual suspects are in sight.
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Last Five Years
Marshall has left the conference, and perennial powers like Toledo, Bowling Green and Miami missed out on a trip to Ford Field in one of the craziest finishes in conference history.
Both the East and West divisions finished with first-place ties, including a three-way deadlock in the East, and when it was all settled, Akron (6-5, 5-3) and Northern Illinois (7-4, 6-2) were headed to Detroit.
"I think I got a few laughs when I said it, but I thought someone could win the MAC with two or three losses," Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said Wednesday. "We have two, and Akron has three. There is so much parity in this league."
Neither school has ever played in the title game, which started in 1998, but both have come close. Akron tied for the East title in 2000 but lost out on tiebreakers to Marshall, while the Huskies tied for the West crown in three of the last four seasons without making it to the championship.
"We did what we had to do to get here, and it has created a lot of momentum for our program," Akron coach J.D. Brookhart said.
While fans might not be used to seeing the Zips or the Huskies in the championship game, they'll be in for a wild game if the teams repeat their regular-season encounter. On Sept. 24, Akron blew a 42-21 fourth-quarter lead before rallying to win 48-42 in overtime.
"There are no secrets for either team -- we had our chance to feel each out the first time," Novak said. "Any time you lose to a team, you want to play them again."
For Northern Illinois, the championship-game berth is another step in a journey that started with a 23-game losing streak from 1996-98. Last season, the Huskies went to a bowl game for the first time in 21 years, beating Troy 34-21 in the Silicon Valley Football Classic.
"This game means more than the bowl game last year," safety Ray Smith said. "It has always been our goal to get to the MAC championship game and win it. This is a great feeling."
The Zips will not only be looking for their first conference title since joining the MAC in 1992, but for the first in school history, dating back to joining the Ohio Athletic Conference in 1915.
"This is a great opportunity for us," Brookhart said. "I'm extremely proud that we got here after some ups and downs this season."
The winner of the game will play in the Motor City Bowl, also at Ford Field, on Dec. 26. Toledo has already accepted the MAC's other bid and will go to the GMAC Bowl.
But one player had his mind on another game that will be played at the stadium.
"The mere fact that the Super Bowl will be played here makes this that much more gratifying," said Northern Illinois tailback Garrett Wolfe. "I don't think I can put it into words."
|Avg Points Allowed||23.3||22.8|