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Should Northwestern Play Northern Illinois in Football?

Seth Gruen is the Chicago Sun-Times' new Northwestern beat writer — follow him on Twitter at @SethGruen — and he had an interesting post today with quotes from Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, who said he wants to schedule more games against Northwestern:

“Just knowing the caliber of coaching that’s over at Northwestern—obviously I know the coaches very well—I think it’s a great idea. I think that we should do it,” Frazier said. “I think we should do it quick, fast, in a hurry, and definitely something I will pursue.”

According to Gruen, Frazier said NU and NIU have had "really, really preliminary" talks about a series between the two schools. This year, NIU plays at Iowa and Purdue, but a series against NU would make sense for the Huskies, who would get a chance to meet up against a Chicagoland foe. But is it worth it for NU, at least from a football standpoint? No, not at all.

There's a saying I heard awhile back that way too many teams don't consider when putting together their schedule: "If you're going to play a team that sounds like they suck, make sure they actually suck."

That's a blunt way of saying teams need to do a better job of making sure they don't underestimate teams from smaller conferences. Typically, Northwestern does a pretty good job of that. This year, the Wildcats added a game with Western Michigan, which went 4-8 last year and is breaking in a new coach. MAC games typically aren't scheduled as far ahead as games against FBS foes, so NU has the ability to reasonably project how good its opponent is going to be.

With that in mind, scheduling NIU would be a bad idea. The Huskies are fresh off an Orange Bowl appearance and they're typically one of the best teams in the MAC. Why schedule them when Directional Michigan or one of the Ohio MAC schools would be an easier win? That might sound cowardly, but it's really just logical. NU doesn't gain much by beating NIU instead of Western Michigan, but it risks so much more by scheduling that game.

Maybe Jim Phillips will decide it's a good idea to face Northern Illinois — he was previously the athletic director there — from a geographic standpoint. Maybe Phillips will decide it's not too much of a risk, since NU should, after all, always have an upper hand on Northern Illinois. But from a risk/reward standpoint, it just doesn't seem worth it for the Wildcats.