Listen to Eastern Illinois coach Dino Babers and Northern Illinois’ Rod Carey and you might think both of their football teams were playing Alabama this week.
Actually, they are playing each other with the pregame praise perhaps even more than football coaches usually give trying their best to lull the other into complacency before a 6 p.m. Saturday game at DeKalb.
During Monday’s Mid-American Conference coaches teleconference, Carey said that EIU from the lower Football Championship Subdivision might be the strongest opponent so far for his 2-0 Huskies, an evaluation that should raise some eyebrows considering Northern has beaten Iowa and Idaho.
Tuesday’s return compliment from Babers is not so surprising although the 3-0 EIU coach had to make a reassessment when facing his second Football Bowl Subdivision foe this year.
“This team is better than San Diego State,” Babers said. “Starting the season I thought San Diego State was the best team we’d play. Sorry, my bad. This team is better.”
So as Eastern tries to become just the third FCS team to knock off two FBS foes in the same year, Babers draws little confidence from the opening 40-19 conquest over San Diego State.
“No, it’s kind of like a fight in the school yard,” he said. “Just because you beat up one kid doesn’t mean you can beat up the kid in the next grade.”
Babers has plenty of supporting evidence in this analysis including that Northern has “a defensive tackle that looks like Warren Sapp” or ‘the speed on their defense is just unmatched.”
But let’s get to the main man, Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch who last year set an FBS total offense record when he passed for 3,138 yards and ran for 1,815 while reminding Babers of his time as assistant at Baylor when Robert Griffin III was having his Heisman season.
“The reason why he is dangerous is he can do both,” Babers said of Lynch, who this year as a senior leads Northern with 215 yards and two touchdowns rushing and 427 yards on 42-for-70 passing with six touchdowns and no interceptions through two games. “He is almost RG3-ish. You just have to decide how you’re going to play him and hope he has an off night, but he probably won’t have a rough night.
“It’s almost like he’s got an ‘S’ on his chest. That’s why he’s up for the Heisman.”
Eastern has its own marquee man in Jimmy Garoppolo, who leads the FCS with 1,281 passing yards, ranks second in total offense with 430.7 yards per game and eighth in passing efficiency with a 169.8 rating as he builds his case for the Walter Payton Award, the FCS version of a Heisman.
He has the Panthers leading the FCS in total offense at 631.3 yards per game and moving up to eighth in the Sports Network’s FCS national rankings and 10th in the FCS Coaches Poll.
“A fine football club coming in,” Carey said during Northern’s weekly press conference on Tuesday. “They’re eighth or ninth in the country, I’m told, and they certainly are deserving of that. They have a quarterback who is as good as anyone from what I’ve seen on film.”
Northern, meanwhile has to settle for being among those receiving votes but not in the top 25 of the Associated Press FBS poll or Coaches Poll.
That brings more complimentary debate.
“I’m surprised they’re not ranked,” Babers said of the Huskies. “I think they’ve been shunned. This will be the best team we’re going to play bar none.”
Carey is easier on the pollsters.
“Well, we’re not ranked because there are 28 or 29 teams ahead of us,” the Northern coach said. “ I don’t care about that. It’s a mythical thing where everybody sees people ranked.”
Nothing is mythical about Saturday’s game matching two record-setting quarterbacks from two undefeated teams from the same state meeting for the first time since 1998.
“Proximity wise it’s good to play them,” Carey said of the Panthers. “I just wish they weren’t so good.”
Brian Nielsen is sports editor of the JG-TC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-238-6856.