DEKALB, Ill. (AP) — Rod Carey could have been on the golf course. As alternatives go, this isn't bad.
He has a shot at a conference championship and a chance to crash the BCS party again as he winds up his first full season as Northern Illinois' head coach.
With Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch at quarterback, the 16th-ranked Huskies will try to remain unbeaten and capture their third straight Mid-American Conference championship when they meet Bowling Green in the title game in Detroit on Friday. Win that and they could be busting the BCS again after playing in the Orange Bowl last season.
For Carey, that would be another turn on a ride that rocketed him from offensive line coach at the start of last season to offensive coordinator and, finally, a head coach making his debut in the biggest game in school history. The Huskies followed that up by going unbeaten in the regular season for the first time as a major college program and 8-0 in conference play while winning the MAC West.
For Carey, none of this would have happened if not for a decision he made with his wife, Tonya, seven or eight years ago. That was to continue to try to become a Division I head coach rather than take over her parents' golf course in Colfax, Wis.
"She said, 'Well, you want to be a head coach in D-I, that ain't going to happen if we take over the family business,'" he said. "So we kind of said, 'Let's see what kind of opportunity comes first.'"
The offensive coordinator and line coach at Division III Wisconsin-Stout at the time, Carey decided to keep pursuing his goal and his wife's sister took over the course.
Not that he wasn't tempted.
An avid golfer, he said he loves getting up at the crack of dawn to cut greens. He thinks about what his life would have been like and what he would have missed out on, too, had he chosen that path.
"Both are rewarding," Carey said.
For Carey, the lure of leading his own Division I program was just a little too strong so he kept pursuing it. He coached Illinois State's offensive line in 2007 and spent three years in a similar role at North Dakota before joining Dave Doeren's staff at NIU in 2011.
When last season kicked off, he still was the Huskies' line coach. Then, offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar left to focus on a cancer fight he ultimately lost.
Carey stepped in and the Huskies went on a roll that carried them all the way to a BCS appearance, the first ever for a MAC school. The biggest change came the day NIU got invited to the Orange Bowl. That was Carey being introduced as the head coach after Doeren left for North Carolina State.
The Huskies fell 31-10 to Florida State, but they've been rolling along ever since then. They're 14th in the BCS standings, and a win over Bowling Green will likely mean another BCS bid. Carey insisted he's not thinking about that just yet.
"Nothing's guaranteed," Carey said. "Those polls don't mean anything until the last poll comes out, and that's after this game."
The numbers are impressive, though.