Huskies take on a new role

DeKALB -- Coming into the season, NIU knew once Mid-American Conference play started it would become the huntee instead of being in its usual hunter role.

The Huskies didn't expect it to happen a week early.

After claiming victories over Maryland and Alabama, the No. 20 ranked team looks to notch its third defeat over a BCS team this season. But with its first every ranking in school history comes new territory. For the first time this season, NIU goes into a non-conference game favorites after being eight point underdogs to Maryland and 14 to the Crimson Tide.

"Ever since I've been here we have been chasing people," said senior receiver P.J. Fleck, who has played for the Huskies since 1999. "They had targets on their backs and we've never had one. I'd rather have it this way than being the chaser. It's nice to be at the front right now. We have to play well this Saturday and we have to continue on w hat we have been doing."

With all these changes this Huskie program has gone through this season, one would have to excuse the players for basking in the spotlight.

After both BCS victories, the Huskies have been gaining both local an d national attention as every day pass. However, NIU knows it cannot get too carried away, as the MAC portion of the schedule has yet to start.

"We are 3-0 right now," coach Joe Novak said. "There is a lot of football left to be played. There is still a lot more left to go. Not that many teams go undefeated."

Which makes Saturday's game that more important.

With NIU's hopes of going undefeated, Iowa State has more motivation heading into its first road game of the season. Saturday marks the Cyclones sixth straight road game against a ranked opponent. ISU lost its first game versus a ranked team two weeks ago, suffering a 40-21 loss to No. 23 Iowa.

"We're trying to beat a ranked opponent and beat a team that's playing with about as much confidence as anyone in the country," said Iowa State coach Dan McCarney. "The most important thing is trying to put ourselves in a position to win this game and try to come back 3-1 going into the Big 12 Conference race. We need to show that we have made progress and improvements in the areas that we had problems with the last game we played. We're going into this thing letting it all hang out. (NIU) is a tremendous football team."

While the Huskies want to get thei r first 4-0 startsince the 1965 season, most importantly they want to establish the proper momentum needed going into the MAC season next week. NIU plays Ohio at Huskie Stadium next Saturday.

But the one thing the Huskies looks to shed is an emotional letdown. After beating Maryland 20-13, the Huskies came out emotionally flat against a Division I-AA Tennessee Tech team, but still found a way to win, 42-17.

NIU knows the chance of that happening against Iowa State could be a possibility. To make sure that does not happen, Novak has instilled a philosophy into the team.

"We went down to Alabama and played a great game," Fleck said. "Great teams stay consistent all the way through. That is what coach Novak has been preaching to us all week. Iowa State is no joke. We are going to have to play our game."

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