“We know about it, but our goal from Day One has been to win a MAC championship,” McShane said. “That's how we're approaching it right now. We do that, then it's in its own hands.”
Orange Bowl talk has heightened the profile of Hazell, 48, making it more likely he will leave at the end of the season (if not before). Major college jobs are already open at Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas, Purdue, Colorado, Boston College and N.C. State. Despite just two seasons in charge at KSU after seven as an assistant at Ohio State, Hazell has 26 years of college experience.
Having staved off suitors for baseball coach Scott Stricklin after he took the Golden Flashes to their first College World Series in June, Nielsen realizes Hazell's departure is inevitable.
“We know when we have people who are great coaches and great leaders, people are going to recognize that,” Nielsen said by phone Monday. “It's not something we wring our hands over. We understand it's part of our business.
”We're hopeful coach Hazell is our coach for a long time, but in any business there's going to be opportunities presented. We have to see if and what happens in the near future.“
Some wonder whether Orange Bowl discussions and talk of Hazell's departure will be distractions against NIU. But not Nielsen.
”I'll take my chances with this staff and these players. They've showed an unbelievable resilience since last year when we were 1-6,“ Nielsen said. ”Now we're one of five schools to win 15 out of 17. The only problem is one of those other teams we're playing on Friday.“ (Kent State and Northern Illinois join the elite company of Alabama, Oregon and Notre Dame with that distinction.)
Hazell isn't dwelling on bowl destinations or his next job. He goes through his regimented weekly routine preparing for the Huskies. He reads his texts from friends, including former OSU boss Jim Tressel. Sometimes Hazell does stop to marvel at what's going on.
”Every once in a while I'll reflect and say, ‘Man, this is Rocky. This is Cinderella in real life,'b??“ Hazell said. ”It's been a pretty amazing season and I'm sure we'll all look back and say, ‘Wow,' at the end.“
If the end comes in a 75,000-seat stadium in South Florida, ”Wow“ won't be the half of it. The alum with the ”K“ on his tooth might have added a diamond by then.