Daily Herald
Bowl-minded Huskies face EMU in national spotlight
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 11/4/2009 2:38 PM

DEKALB - Between his recent dental surgery and whatever virus courses through his veins - and pays special attention to his vocal cords - Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill needs to spend a day or two healing instead of hollering.

That's not going to happen any time soon.

Because the Mid-American Conference needs all of the exposure it can get, the Huskies had just four days to prepare for Thursday's visit from winless Eastern Michigan (6:30 p.m. ESPNU).

"Our coaching staff, we have had no sleep," Kill said with a raspy voice that's beyond even the late Wolfman Jack. "And we've prepared very hard to get ready for this football game to make sure we don't have a letdown."

Why a letdown? Because Eastern Michigan (0-8, 0-4), which suffered a 63-27 loss at Arkansas on Saturday night, is one of four Football Bowl Subdivision teams still seeking its first win.

Northern Illinois (5-3, 3-1), on the other hand, becomes bowl-eligible with a win and pulls within one game of Central Michigan in the MAC West race.

The quick turnaround might cost the Huskies yet another key starter.

NIU has won the last two games without quarterback Chandler Harnish (knee surgery), safety David Bryant (knee) and nose guard Brian Lawson (hand).

Now left guard Jason Onyebuagu, a fourth-year starter, is questionable with a high ankle sprain. While Onyebuagu spent the last few days in a walking boot, Kill did his best to get the practicing Huskies to Thursday's starting line.

"I don't know how good it is, as physical as football has become," Kill said, "to be able to play on a Saturday - which is like being in a car wreck if you play hard - and turn around and be in another car wreck on Thursday. It's hard on your body. I worry about that.

"I can tell you right now, I'm worried about some that played on Saturday: Are they going to be able to have the juice and the energy to go again on Thursday? That's why we pulled the pads off. That's why we didn't have any contact."

This is the first of two consecutive Thursday appearances on ESPNU for the Huskies. They'll also appear on the network on Nov. 27 (the day after Thanksgiving) at Central Michigan - likely in a morning time slot.

Why volunteer for such a strange schedule? Even a sickly Kill knows what keeps a program healthy.

"The plusses are, in recruiting, there'll be a lot of people (to) get the opportunity to see us on ESPNU," Kill said.