NCAA Talk

Underdog title nothing new for NIU players

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Underdog title nothing new for NIU players

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. Amid the cacophony that is the newfound media attention that constantly surrounds the Northern Illinois Huskies, one word has found a way to break through the noise.
In almost every question asked, you'll hear it: underdog.
What else could you call the Huskies? The team is the first-ever MAC school to make the BCS, and they'll go against a No. 12 Florida State team that was in the national-title hunt for all but a few weeks this season.
Some teams would take offense to being called an underdog, but Northern Illinois hasn't been quick to point out that they finished the regular season only three spots behind the Seminoles in the BCS Standings.
No, they rather like the title of underdog it fits.
"I think this team is made up of guys who, at one point in their life, were told that they're not good enough to play here," tight end Jason Schepler said. "So people saying that we're not good enough to be here is just another day for us."
Schepler is the perfect example of NIU's I'll-show-you attitude. Coming out of Sycamore high school, just up the road from NIU's campus, Schepler says he visited every Big Ten school. Each told him he wasn't big enough, wasn't athletic enough, was downright not good enough to play at the BCS level.
NIU took him on as a walk-on and put him at a position that seems from a bygone era a blocking tight end.
Across the country, most blocking tight ends are role players, buried on the overall depth chart, only to be used in special situations. Not Schepler. He's been NIU's offensive player of the week three times, a Lowes Senior CLASS Award finalist and a second-team academic All-American.
The man Schepler blocks for, quarterback Jordan Lynch, might have had Heisman hype this season, but he too came to Northern Illinois as a nobody. Only former Huskie coach Jerry Kill offered him a scholarship out of Mount Carmel high school.
"Im a quarterback first I would say, and no one really liked me for quarterback," Lynch said. "NIU was the only school that wanted me to play quarterback. It was the only school that gave me a shot, so he Kill came down to Mount Carmel and talked to Coach Lenti and invited me to a one-day camp, and I went up there, and he saw me play quarterback, and offered me that night."
Lynch has made good on his one opportunity.
After waiting on the bench for two years, Lynch ran for an astounding 1,771 yards this season not Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton, Eric Crouch, Mike Vick nor Steve Young ever rushed for as many. It set a new single-season rushing record for a FBS quarterback, and it was done without SportsCenter cut-ins or front-page fanfare.
It wasn't until the record was set that Lynch began to be noticed nationally, and now that he is, he's hoping to parlay the stage of the Orange Bowl a game Lynch called the next-best thing to the National Championship Game into another proving ground.
"It was always my dream, play in the NFL," Lynch said. "Just like Russell Wilson, RGIII and all that, theyre doing a great job and it seems like the NFL is starting to make the switch year by year with more quarterbacks like that. That definitely gives guys like me hope that are 6-foot or under."

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."