Before Northern Illinois can think about upcoming back-to-back games that likely will determine the West Division champion of the Mid-American Conference, it can't afford to overlook another seemingly less-formidable league opponent Saturday.
The No. 21 Huskies attempt to extend their FBS-high conference winning streak to 22 games while trying for a 14th consecutive road victory when they face Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium.
Off to the program's best start since the 1965 team went 9-0, Northern Illinois (8-0, 4-0) is one of eight undefeated teams in the FBS. The Huskies, who crashed the BCS party en route to an Orange Bowl berth last season, are 17th in the BCS standings.
However, NIU still must host an 8-1 Ball State team that's 5-0 in the MAC on Nov. 13, then a week later visit a Toledo squad whose only league loss came against the Cardinals.
While those games are likely to have division-title implications, Huskies coach Rod Carey is making sure his team's only focus is on UMass (1-7, 1-3).
"Football is a funny game," he said. "If you don't pay attention to details, if you don't pay attention to the littlest thing as you go along, it will get away from you in a hurry. We just go about our business."
NIU rolled to a 63-0 victory over the Minutemen in 2012 and enters this contest after scoring its most points of the season in last Saturday's 59-20 rout of lowly Eastern Michigan. Star quarterback Jordan Lynch threw for 223 yards with four touchdowns and ran for 99 with a score in less than three quarters for the Huskies, whose last conference loss came at Central Michigan on Oct. 1, 2011.
That also was the last time NIU lost on the road.
The Huskies' 13-game winning streak away from home is second only to Oregon's 18-game road run. NIU has played all but three games on the road this season, and beat Iowa and Purdue away from home to become the first MAC school to top two Big Ten teams in the same season.
"We'd like to play home games instead of a road game any day, but it just so happens it's like this," said Lynch, who is one of nine NCAA players to pass for at least 5,000 yards and rush for 3,000. "It just brings us closer together going on the road, and it's going to help us out in the long run."
Lynch, who leads all FBS quarterbacks with 1,031 rushing yards, passed for 191 with two TDs and ran for 157 and another score against UMass last year.
"Right now, he is the guy that they look to and he is the man who best summarizes Northern Illinois football," UMass coach Charley Molnar said. "He may be one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country."
NIU is tied for fifth in the FBS totaling 537.1 yards per game and 11th in scoring at 41.9 points per contest.
That likely does not bode well for the Minutemen, who have allowed 775 yards and 63 points in consecutive losses to Buffalo and Western Michigan that followed a 17-10 win over Miami, Ohio on Oct. 12.
UMass averages a FBS-worst 10.6 points per game and totaled 55 in the first seven before last Saturday's 31-30 loss to Western Michigan. Freshman Lorenzo Woodley scored on a 2-yard run with 22 seconds left to bring the Minutemen within one, but their two-point conversion attempt failed.
Woodley rushed for a season-high 58 yards on 16 carries.
NIU receiver Tommylee Lewis had 107 yards receiving, 81 rushing and threw a 17-yard TD pass to Lynch last week. He caught six passes for 86 yards versus UMass in 2012.