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Novak backing NIU without hesitation

Joe Novak

Joe Novak

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Updated: December 12, 2011 7:24PM

This could be a dilemma for Joe Novak.

The former Northern Illinois University football coach is a Miami of Ohio graduate who played in Oxford for the late Bo Schembechler. Those teams will meet Friday in Detroit for the Mid-American Conference championship after winning their respective division titles.

Can we expect Novak to walk into Ford Field wearing one of those goofy half-and-half jerseys featuring the RedHawks and Huskies?

Uh, no.

“I’m coming up to see the Huskies kick some butt,” Novak said this week from his retirement home in North Carolina.

“I love my alma mater and I’ve been following closely how they’ve been doing, but I recruited some of those kids (at NIU).”

Most of the seniors and redshirt juniors on this team, which carries a nine-game winning streak to Motown, came in during the end of Novak’s 12-year regime. Their first year — and Novak’s last — in 2007 the team dealt with a rash of injuries, lost five games by a total of 16 points and finished 2-10.

Under third-year coach Jerry Kill, they’ve turned it around, going 10-2. And, win or lose the MAC title game, they’ll be headed to their third straight bowl game.

“It was probably in Jerry’s second year we were talking and he said, ‘Your last recruiting class was really, really good.’” Novak said. “I’d like to think so, but Jerry and his staff have done a great job of developing those players.”

Novak and his wife, Carole, have seen the 2010 Huskies just once in person, a 28-22 loss at Illinois in September. He’s also seen them several times on television.

What impresses him the most?

“How much they’ve improved since the beginning of September, how far they’ve come,” he said. “That, and how balanced they are. You wouldn’t say they’re great at anything, except maybe running the ball, but they’re good at everything.

“Also, the improvement (quarterback) Chandler Harnish has made throwing the football and the way he and the receivers are working together and what they’ve been able to do.”

He noted the team has stayed relatively healthy.

“That’s probably because of two things,” said Novak. “One, they’re obviously doing a great job with their strength and conditioning program.

“And the other, which Jerry does much better than what we did, is they’re running so many people in and out of there it’s hard to keep track of them. He’s playing a lot of guys and by doing that they’re able to stay fresh.”

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