Some viewed the Mid-American Conference championship as a mere formality for the Northern Illinois University football team on its path to a second straight BCS bowl game.
Zach Colvin and his teammates on the Bowling Green State University football team did not feel that way.
A Shorewood native and defensive tackle for the Falcons, Colvin assisted on one tackle and had a quarterback hurry in the MAC championship, played Dec. 6 at Ford Field in Detroit. He helped the Falcons win 47-27 and hand NIU its first loss of the season. Colvin says it is "without question" the Falcons' biggest win during his three years with them.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Colvin said in a recent interview. "As a team, well we felt that we were the better team, and we felt going in that maybe they were overlooking us. With that in mind, we wanted to go in, take them by storm and show them how we're capable of playing."
NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch passed for 219 yards and rushed for 126 more against the Falcons, which might sound like big numbers. For Lynch, a Heisman Trophy finalist, they were rather tame.
It was the eighth time this season Lynch ran for 119 or more yards and the ninth time he passed for at least 202 yards. The Falcons forced Lynch to equal his season high in interceptions thrown with two, and his raw QBR of 35.8 was his worst of the season.
"It was a huge challenge. Jordan Lynch is a great player. We knew we'd have to play some great defense to have any chance of stopping him or of more or less containing him enough to have a chance to win the game," Colvin said. "I think we played a great game. We knew what our responsibilities were and were in the right places we had to be in order to contain him."
With the win, the Falcons had a 10-3 record. They earned a berth in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, played Dec. 26 at Ford Field, against Pittsburgh. A field goal with 1:17 left in the game gave Pittsburgh a 30-27 victory.
The bowl loss was the third straight for the Falcons who last won a bowl game in 2004. They have played in the postseason in two straight years, losing 29-20 to San Jose State in the 2012 Military Bowl.
"This year was the year we felt we would have a real opportunity to win a bowl game, but it was still a lot of fun," Colvin said. "Pittsburgh took us down to the last drive, and then we made a bunch of mistakes and weren't able to take advantage of a real opportunity to win. There were things we didn't do well and we didn't play to the best of our ability, but the fans were very supportive and made it a nice end to a great overall season."
Three of Bowling Green's four losses in 2013, including the bowl, were by three or fewer points.
"Against Toledo, Mississippi State and then again with Pittsburgh, we were one play away," Colvin said. "I think a lot of that was that our team didn't really hit our full stride until the Ohio game when we won 49-0 against a team that went to a bowl game. From that point forward, we were pretty much unstoppable in MAC play."
Colvin made a few starts this season, though he says he more often came off the bench. With Jarius Campbell and Ted Oulette, Colvin was part of a three-man rotation at defensive tackle. Campbell and Oulette would frequently play the entire first defensive series, Colvin says, and the three would play a relatively equal number of snaps from there.
Campbell and Oulette are both fifth-year seniors, meaning Colvin could enter his own senior season in 2014 atop the depth chart at defensive tackle.
"I can't wait for the opportunity," Colvin said. "After the last two years being an on-and-off starter, I'm looking forward to hopefully being able to play pretty much every down and just having the opportunity to make some plays."
How much Colvin plays will be decided by a revamped coaching staff. Head coach Dave Clawson left Bowling Green in December to take over at Wake Forest, taking several assistants with him. His replacement is Dino Babers, who led Eastern Illinois to a 12-2 record in 2013.
"When you play in the MAC, that's pretty much how things go. There's not much longevity," Colvin said. "We wish coach [Dave] Clawson along with coach [Warren] Ruggerio and coach [Mike] Elko, who were our coordinators, nothing but the best. We realize that they have aspirations and goals as coaches, and I'm excited to see them get the opportunities they've gotten."