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NIU’s Doeren set to match wits with old boss

Updated: September 14, 2011 11:29PM

CHICAGO — Northern Illinois meets No. 7 Wisconsin Saturday in Soldier Field Showdown II as the Huskies play host to a Big Ten opponent in the NFL stadium for the second time in five years.

“We’ve done a very good job trying to get people in the stands in Huskie colors,” said NIU coach Dave Doeren. “I’m excited to see the turnout. The good thing is that both of us wear red. I’m not sure how that will look, but I know our guys are excited to play.”

Thirteen of them are fifth-year seniors who were on the sidelines but did not play in 2007 when Iowa claimed a 17-3 win in the first such showdown.

NIU’s marketing department could have tapped those late-night sitcom replays, billing it Cheers, Friends with the following listing: the one where everyone knows everyone as a first-time head coach (Doeren) goes up against his old boss (Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema), who still employs his best buddies and former college teammates (UW co-defensive coordinators Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge).

“You can work up to 100 hours a week sometimes and I was working with two guys I consider to be brothers, so that’s a pretty neat deal when you can do that,” said Doeren, who played with Ash and Partridge at Drake.

“The camaraderie you have in coaching is magnified even more when you have two of your best friends in that room with you.”

Doeren has fond memories of his five seasons in Madison, citing a bowl win over an Arkansas team that had three tailbacks who are now are all starters in the NFL and last year’s Rose Bowl berth and conference co-championship, among others.

“The entire body of work is what you’re most proud of,” he said. “I grew a lot as a coach.

“Bret is a very detailed guy. He’s a guy that cares a lot about his coaches and his players. A guy that doesn’t cut any corners, does things the right way, and doesn’t let the little things get by. Those are all things I think are very important in this profession.”

Doeren and Bielema joined a conference call for a joint radio interview on a Chicago station Wednesday morning, but the NIU coach said they haven’t been talking since the season started.

“Once the season starts, all coaches kind of get in a cave and shut the door,” said Doeren. “It’s more of a text here or there. I sent them one saying ‘Good job’ after they shut out Oregon State (last week) because that’s a big deal.”

It’s a big deal for his players, including nine who are from Wisconsin. Senior center Scott Wedige, who is from Elkhorn, is the only starter in that group.

“I’m excited to be playing in Soldier Field, in an NFL stadium,” said Wedige. “Growing up in Wisconsin, you’re a Badger fan, but I was a much bigger Packer fan than a Badger fan. (Brett) Favre and (Mike) Holmgren were my favorites growing up and that was my dream, to be a Packer.”

Asked where the allegiances of his three young sons — Jacob, Luke and Connor — will lie, the 39-year-old Doeren said, “You’ll have to ask them. I think two of my three sons immediately switched (allegiances when he got the job) and one of them has a great affinity for both.”

He was quick to add, though, “I know they’re all rooting for Huskies now.”

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