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NIU looking to make waves at BCS foe Kansas

Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren (right) is looking forward his second seasHuskies helm. NIU released its scheduled Thursday. | PHOTO

Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren (right) is looking forward to his second season at the Huskies helm. NIU released its scheduled Thursday. | PHOTO COURTESY NIU

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Updated: November 9, 2011 1:53PM

They won’t have to click their heels together three times to get there, but Dave Doeren and Logan Pegram are going home to Kansas this weekend.

It’s the traditional route for the Northern Illinois football coach and his left guard, who will take the team flight to Kansas City and bus 80 miles or so, west to Lawrence. That’s where the Huskies step up in class Saturday to face BCS opponent Kansas of the Big 12 Conference.

Or will they?

Mid-major NIU is coming off a 42-26 thumping of Army in its home opener and is actually favored by 5.5 to 7 points over the 1-0 Jayhawks, who beat FCS McNeese State 42-24.

“I don’t look into that kind of stuff,” Doeren said of betting lines. “We watched the film. We respect who we’re playing. … Kansas is going to do everything they can to protect their home turf.”

Ah, yes, home. The Huskies have only four players on their roster from the state but the program has a deep Kansas connection.

Doeren grew up in the Kansas City suburb of Shawnee Mission and one of the early stops in his 16 years as a college assistant was the first four years (2002-05) of Mark Mangino’s seven-year run at Kansas.

Pegram, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound junior from Silver Lake, Kan., grew up a Kansas State fan and was “recruited pretty heavily” by Mangino’s staff but didn’t get an offer from them. If Pegram had been two inches taller, this story might have been different.

“Realistically, it’s 6-3 … and a half,” Pegram said of his height, which he likes to round up to 6-4. “They said my height was a major factor. That, and level of play. I played kind of small ball in high school, Class 3A, which isn’t filled with traditional powers.”

Assistant coaches Tom Matukewicz (LB) and Kevin Kane (TE/FB) have Kansas roots, as did former coach Jerry Kill, who made a point of telling Pegram he would get his shot against his home state school when this year’s schedule was released.

Pegram says he has buddies on the Kansas roster and has been trading good-natured texts, including with good friend Duane Zlatnik, who starts at right guard for Kansas and checks in at 6-4, 326.

The Jayhawks are now coached by former Nebraska QB and Heisman Trophy finalist Turner Gill. He’s in his second year there after a three-year run at Buffalo, where he earned Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year honors after quickly turning the MAC East doormat into a winner.

Doeren and Pegram both know the value of a win over a BCS program, even if it is a team coming off a 3-9 season.

“When you’re in the MAC, you’re seeking national credibility all the time. You want to be on the national stage, you want respect, to be in the Top 25. You have to beat BCS teams to make those things happen to your program,” said Doeren, noting such wins also improve a team’s bowl prospects.

Pegram, who called coming to Northern a “blessing in disguise,” is looking forward to the homecoming.

“Seeing family and a lot of friends who go to KU will be fun,” he said. “I’m just hoping we can do the best we can and help the program step up to another level. I wouldn’t say it’s a personal thing as much as people want to make it out to be, but all of us (at NIU) didn’t get offers we wanted and we all have chips on our shoulders. It’s kind of the NIU motivation every weekend.”

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