DETROIT — This isn’t the first time Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey has crossed paths with University at Buffalo coach Lance Leipold.
The Huskies (7-5, 6-2 MAC) and the Bulls (10-2, 7-1) meet for the MAC championship at 7 p.m. Friday at Ford Field in Detroit. The Huskies and the Bulls have met three times in Leipold's four-year tenure at UB, but Carey's working relationship with Leipold dates back more than 17 years.
Their paths didn’t closely cross, but certainly ran parallel, as both worked their way up the coaching ranks at the FBS, Division II and Division III levels.
Carey interviewed at Nebraska-Omaha in 2001, right around the time Leipold left the now-defunct Division II football program to become a recruiting coordinator at Nebraska. A few years later, when Carey left Wisconsin-Stout to become offensive line coach at Illinois State in 2007, Leipold became the head coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he won six Division III national titles.
“As far as what makes him a good football coach, level doesn't matter,” Carey said of Leipold, who is 23-25 in four seasons at UB. “When you can coach, you can coach. I know there's always a question about recruitment, but believe me, from being in the Wisconsin league, you have to recruit. That's where we all cut our teeth, recruiting.
“That, I believe, is some of the hardest recruiting that's out there because you're selling your institution and yourself without a scholarship. I didn't think there would ever be a doubt that Lance would be successful.”
Carey is 3-0 against the Bulls in six seasons as head coach at NIU: a 41-30 win in 2015, a 44-7 win in 2016 and a 14-13 win in 2017.
Praise for Patterson: The MAC announced its All-Conference selections and its season superlatives Wednesday, and UB quarterback Tyree Jackson — the MAC offensive player of the year — spoke highly of UB running back Jaret Patterson, the MAC’s freshman of the year.
“He does all of the little things right," Jackson said. "He practices hard. He's very humble, so he was very deserving of that, and I was very happy for that, and I'm excited to continue to see him grow throughout his career.”
Patterson leads the Bulls with 874 yards and 12 touchdowns on 150 carries, and is one of three running backs with more than 300 yards, joining Kevin Marks (733 yards on 153 carries) and Emmanuel Reed (371 yards on 82 carries).
“The nice thing is that our two young running backs (Patterson and Marks) have added a lot to the offense," Leipold said. “They helped to complete what we wanted to be as a balanced offense and an attacking offense.”
High stakes: Leipold leads a team into its first championship game since 2014, when he coached Wisconsin-Whitewater to a 43-34 win against Mount Union for the Division III national championship.
“The thing that we always want to try to do in all these situations is try to stay within the routine the best way we can,” Leipold said of preparing for the MAC title game. “ Yes, it's an important game, but it's a thirteenth game of the year and one that these young men have earned. As long as we try to stay within the moment of what it is and prepare for a good opponent and stay within that, I think they will have a chance to take the field with great excitement and be successful.”
Bowl-bound: Most national bowl projections slot the winner of the MAC title game into the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Dec. 22. However, that’s not a lock, and the Bulls won’t know their bowl slot until all the bowl selections are announced Sunday.
The MAC is guaranteed a spot in five bowl games, and four of them are owned by ESPN (which owns 14 bowls overall). Those four are: the Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho; the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.; the Bahamas Bowl; and the Frisco Bowl in Frisco, Texas.
ESPN by contract has the first choice of MAC teams for the bowl season. There is no stipulation that ESPN has to take the champion. The Dollar General Bowl gets the second choice, then ESPN fills in the next spots. Toledo already has been slotted for the Bahamas Bowl, which usually identifies its teams early in order to expedite travel and passport issues.
News Sports Reporter Mark Gaughan contributed to this report.