The Vanderbilt purge is complete: Northwestern has added Northern Illinois to its 2014 schedule to replace the second of two games the Commodores cancelled, and it's really a strong move from all perspectives.
NIU is the closest FBS team to Evanston, so there's a nice geographic fit -- it's actually strange these teams don't play more often. Jim Phillips served as the Huskies' athletic director before he came to Northwestern, so it's no surprise he turned to them. And there's a nice historical link: Northwestern's win over the Huskies in 1982 was the game that snapped the Wildcats' FBS-record 34-game losing streak, a win that, per those who were alive at the time, led to the biggest party in school history. NU is 6-0-1 all-time against NIU.
You might think this is a mistake since NIU made it to the Orange Bowl last year. It's true that they're a strong MAC program, but a lot of their success last year was fueled by dual-threat QB Jordan Lynch, who will graduate after this season. And the team hasn't been great this year -- in their first year without Dave Doeren, they're 3-0, with a win over Iowa thanks to a late Jake Rudock pick and shootout wins over Idaho and Eastern Illinois, not exactly a solid resume. The danger with scheduling MAC teams is that if you do it five years in advance, the team could turn out to be very good and beat you. Here, we're just 11 months away from the game, so it doesn't seem like that will be the case.
The game will be on Sept. 6 at Ryan Field, and should draw nice attendance for a non-con game considering the distance between the schools. They'll keep an open date Sept. 13.
It would have been nice to play a home-and-home with Vandy, but quickly scheduling two MAC squads has given the Cats one easy win and hopefully another. So, good riddance, Commodores.