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Despite Orange Bowl defeat, NIU takes step toward its goal

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Despite Orange Bowl defeat, NIU takes step toward its goal

Updated: 12:50 a.m.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Northern Illinois earned and deserved the right to play in the Orange Bowl, but in a 31-10 loss, the Huskies didn't always look as if they belonged on the same field as Florida State.

Ultimately, Rod Carey's squad was overmatched by a team bigger, faster and stronger across the board. FSU had a massive athletic advantage, but the Seminoles were unable to put the game out of reach -- despite a truckload of chances -- until the fourth quarter.

"After the fourth quarter, we let it slip away," wide receiver Martel Moore said, "and then we didn't retaliate like we were supposed to do, like we've done all season."

But NIU had a spurt of momentum in the third quarter, pumping life into the stagnant Huskies' offense if only for a fleeting moment. Jordan Lynch -- who struggled all game -- hit Akeem Daniels for a 55-yard gain on third-and-15, followed that with a 22-yard run and finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown strike to Moore.

RELATED: Seminoles batter memory of controversial comments out of Lynch

The Huskies then, in true underdog fashion, attempted and recovered an onside kick. Lynch drove NIU into FSU territory, but threw the Huskies' surge away with an interception trying to thread an impossible needle.

An FSU offense that often appeared disinterested helped keep Northern Illinois within striking distance. But NIU didn't have a Herculean effort in them Tuesday night, falling short of what would've been necessary for the Huskies to be competitive.

"It got frustrating at times," Lynch said. "We tried to keep our composure and we had a lot of good stuff. We didn't execute at times, myself, I missed a lot of throws out there that would've helped our O-line out. There's a reason they're a top-five defense in the nation."

Still, despite its three-touchdown loss, Northern Illinois deserved to be in South Florida, enjoying 70-degree weather while DeKalb shivered in 9-degree temperatures.

By the letter of the law, NIU's season merited a bid to the Orange Bowl. They did what was necessary to get to this point, to have the opportunity to play a champion hailing from a power conference. Sure, they could've beat Iowa Sept. 1 at Soldier Field, but as a Top 16 team ranked higher than two automatically-qualifying conference champs (Louisville and Wisconsin), the Huskies earned their bid to the biggest game in program history.

The game didn't validate the MAC so much as it validated the system, one that admitted a Cinderella into the dance while a bevy of Top 10 SEC teams stood on the sidelines. That access won't go away when the FBS level shifts to a new playoff format in 2014, as the top-ranked team from the Big East, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt will be guaranteed a spot in a "big" bowl. So in theory, access will be easier -- and at the least, simpler.

NIU cleared the BCS hurdle, and did so before any other program in the MAC. But national relevancy isn't built in a single season. It took Boise State years of success to move from being a novelty to being taken seriously. While Carey refused to answer a question about the next step for the program, Moore made it clear NIU's goal is to be at the level of the gold standard among non-power conference schools.

"Going to be a Boise (State) or TCU, hopefully," Moore, a senior, said of where he hopes the program will go. "The teams have been getting better ever since I got here. I think it's going to continue to get better, and everybody works hard to be a Boise or a TCU."

That explanation went a step further -- probably one that's too far, since in the age of cash grabs in conference realignment NIU doesn't offer much, even if the program achieves a level of sustained success.

"Just keep working hard to eventually move into a bigger conference so we could play other opponents, like tonight," Moore continued. "Just playing against Florida State, they're the best team in the ACC. We can play with any other ACC team."

It'll take years of sustained success for NIU's best chance to win a major bowl game to be on a wing and a prayer, when onside kicks won't be a necessary component of an upset-minded gameplan. This year was a step in the right direction, even with a loss in a game grudgingly dominated by FSU.

"The fact that we lost doesn't put a damper on the overall season, we had a 12-win season for the first time in school history," offensive lineman Matt Krempel said. "I think we are going to take motivation out of tonight and move forward."

Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

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AP

Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

It looks like it was too good to be true.

Tyger Campbell shocked the recruiting world when he committed to DePaul on May 8.

Less than four months later, Campbell has reopened his recruitment.

The Rivals.com four-star point guard out of La Lumiere High School in Indiana, who is the No. 66 prospect in the 2018 Class, took to Twitter Friday night to explain his decision.

One of Campbell's original draws to the Blue Demons was DePaul hiring Shane Heirman as an assistant coach. Heirman coached Campbell for two seasons at La Lumiere.

"I like DePaul and honestly my coach (Shane Heirman) just went there and we have a great connection and he's always had my back," Campbell told Scout.com when he committed to the Blue Demons. "I like [DePaul] coach Dave Leitao, too. I like his program and he's an intelligent guy."

Campbell currently has offers from a handful of D1 schools, including Illinois, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Purdue, SMU, Memphis and Tennessee.

Upset alert? Why a confident UIC is challenging juggernaut Kentucky

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USA TODAY

Upset alert? Why a confident UIC is challenging juggernaut Kentucky

On the heels of a 12-win improvement, UIC basketball is riding confidently into the new season. 

And why shouldn't they be? Head coach Steve McClain returns a young, talented nucleus that's expected to challenge for a Horizon League championship and NCAA Tournament berth. 

In fact, the program is in such good shape that they thought: Let's play Kentucky. 

Yup, that's right. The UIC Flames will match up with the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena on Nov. 26, a necessary stage in development, according to McClain. 

“Every year you build your program, there’s steps you have to take," McClain said. "When we got the opportunity to go to Kentucky, I think that’s the next level of exposure for our program.

"When you're chasing trying to be great, you gotta show your kids and show people what greatness looks like. I don't think anyone can argue what Kentucky has done, so I want to put our kids in that environment so they see what it is." 

The contrast between programs is severe. UIC hasn't made an NCAA Tournament since 2004. The Wildcats have made 11 since then. UIC has never advanced out of the first round at the Big Dance. Kentucky has eight National Championships. 

Even this upcoming season, as the Flames boast one of their most skilled teams in school history, none of them were ever touted like Kentucky's freshman class, which ranks No. 2 in the nation per ESPN. 

But the disparities in past successes don't seem to bother UIC. Instead, players, who were likely snubbed by bigger schools in recruitment, are excited about the opportunity to compete on a national stage that the Flames rarely see. 

“First I was like, ‘It’s about time we got someone like (Kentucky) on our schedule,’" said center Tai Odiase, one of the few seniors on the roster. "We’ve been trying to play bigger teams to showcase what we’re made of."

“I don’t see why you go into a place like that without a chip on your shoulder. You don’t go in there just to play basketball, we’re trying to win."

UIC will be heavy, heavy underdogs. There's no way around that. But there are certain spots where they may not be at such a disadvantage. 

On the defensive end, Odiase continued to terrorize guards and big men alike, finishing fifth in the NCAA with 2.9 blocks per game. The dynamic guard duo from "The Six," Godwin Boahen and Marcus Ottey, are quick enough to hang and both took a huge step down the stretch last season. Then there's the return of 2015-2016 Horizon League Newcomer of the Year Dikembe Dixson, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

"The doctors at times thought he was a freak of nature because he was back as quick as he was," McClain said.  

Still, it's a tune-up game for Kentucky, who also scheduled Kansas, UCLA and Louisville on their non-conference slate. But one team's expected walk through is another team's vital experience. 

"Our guys can walk in and see that on a given night, you can compete with anyone," McClain said. 

Given new athletic director Garrett Klassy's comments at his introductory press conference, it doesn't seem as if games like this are a one-hit wonder for UIC. 

“I am an aggressive scheduler," Klassy said. "I helped with the scheduling at George Washington. We’ll play anyone, anytime, anywhere.

"You want to measure yourself against the best. We have a lot of returning starters. It’ll be nice to go on the road, play a tough game and maybe sneak out an upset."