(MCT) — Coach Rod Carey and his Northern Illinois players have been making the rounds this week, soaking in the attention that comes from winning the Mid-American Conference championship and receiving its first invite to a BCS bowl.
Local and national media appearances, a pep rally at the Convocation Center on campus and a holiday celebration party at the University Club in Chicago have helped the Huskies push aside any criticism that they don’t belong in the Jan. 1 Orange Bowl in Miami.
“We are going to take our talents to South Beach,” senior defensive end Sean Progar proclaimed as the crowd roared during halftime of Wednesday night’s NIU-SIU-Edwardsville basketball game.
While some national media analysts may not want to see NIU in a BCS bowl, fans have been buying up school merchandise in record fashion.
Since Sunday’s announcement that the Huskies will face Florida State, the sales of NIU T-shirts have skyrocketed, according to Fanatics.com, an online retailer of officially licensed sports merchandise. Compared to the same period last year, NIU merchandise has seen a 274 percent growth, best among all colleges on Fanatics.com for that same period.
Wednesday night, fans were issued orange T-shirts to illustrate the school’s color scheme for the month.
“It is just a great sign of respect ... and that standing ovation when we were walking out (at the pep rally) ... it is something that if you keep winning, stuff like that will happen,” quarterback Jordan Lynch said after the ceremony.
Lynch demonstrated his throwing accuracy Sunday night when he and a few NIU teammates tossed oranges at the screen of the televised ESPN BCS show when Kirk Herbstreit ranted about how the Huskies did not belong.
“We’re so focused on ourselves and we’re so happy we made it,” Lynch said. “There are always going to be people out there trying to criticize us, so we just try to focus on the positives. We just put that stuff in our file banks and use it as motivation. ... It was just out of fun, throwing the oranges just to show that we don’t have to deal with that stuff.”
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher sounds concerned about containing Lynch, who leads the nation in rushing yards and total offense.
“(We’re) going to have to do it as a group,” Fisher said during a Wednesday news conference in Miami. “The guy throws it, he can run it. ...”
Fisher is not buying the assertion that NIU is not a worthy opponent.
“There are a lot of experts in this world ... that team had an unbelievable football year,” he said. “You look at the ... things they’ve done. ... I don’t agree with (the negativity). It’s disrespectful, and we definitely don’t think that way.”