By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
Darrell Hazell wasn't taking the BCS bait.
When asked during Monday's press conference about the potential for his Kent State football team to land a BCS bowl bid with a victory over Northern Illinois in Friday's MAC Championship Game in Detroit, the Golden Flashes' second-year mentor respectfully -- but sternly-- declined to elaborate.
In fact, he wouldn't even utter the three letters.
"I won't talk about that at all. I'll talk about Northern Illinois -- that's the most important thing," said Hazell. "If our guys don't focus on this game this Friday, we'll have no opportunity to play in some of those big games. This is a huge, huge game for this university."
Media members who cover Hazell on a daily basis knew there was no way he would engage in any talk about the potential for a BCS bowl berth. Hazell has constantly preached the importance of taking one game at a time and preparing for each opponent as it comes, and he's certainly not about to stray from that philosophy after leading his Flashes (11-1) to 10 consecutive victories and a school-record 11 wins.
But Hazell did take a few moments to admire what has been a truly incredible season for Kent State, no matter what happens from here on out.
"Every once in a while I'll reflect and say man, 'This is like 'Rocky,' this is like 'Cinderella' in real life'," said Hazell. "This is real life stuff. It's been a pretty amazing season, and I'm sure the whole organization will look back and say, 'Wow' at the end of this thing."
Hazell recalled creating his team motto for the 2012 season: "One Team, One Destiny."
"That's how we started this whole thing way back when," he said. "Destiny is a predetermined event. Our guys have set their minds out in front of them, and said this is where we need to be at the end of the year and this is how we're gonna get there.
"Each program starts the season by setting goals for themselves. We all feel the same before you play a game, that you've got a chance to reach those goals. But to actually be able to realize that goal now that we're in Week 13 of the season is something very rewarding in itself. It would be quite an accomplishment to do what we set out to do."
The 18th-ranked Flashes' goal, of course, has always been to win a MAC championship -- something the program has only done once, some 40 years ago. If Kent State pulls it off, and gets some help in the form of losses by double-digit underdogs Texas and UCLA, the icing on the proverbial cake could very well be sweeter than anyone ever imagined -- a BCS bowl bid, most likely to the Orange Bowl.
Orange Bowl representatives will be in attendance for Friday's MAC title clash.
"I don't know if you could dream up something like this," said sophomore tight end Kyle Payton. "It's incredible to be a part of it. Sometimes you just gotta sit back and take it all in and realize how blessed you are. But we've gotta take it one step at a time. We've gotta worry about the MAC championship before we worry about anything else."
Hazell detailed his concerns about a certain topic, but it didn't contain a single letter b, c, or s.
"We're playing in a dome for the first time this year, and the one thing that we have to make sure we do a good job of is hydrating," said Hazell. "You can get dehydrated if you haven't experienced (the dome), so we've gotta do a good job as a team all week long with hydrating. I'm sure the air is probably a little bit dry in there. If you hadn't hydrated, all of a sudden a quarter in you're probably playing in 80-degree temperatures and you're not used to it, and your tank's empty. It's hard to get it back once your tank's empty. We addressed it last night and will continue to address it throughout the week.
"That's all part of the whole picture. People don't think about those things, but that's all part of winning games. That's all part of the formula."
Another part of Hazell's recipe for success is avoiding outside distractions, which has never been more difficult than it is right now.
"I have a routine that I go through every week, and the ritual doesn't change," he said. "I spend my Sundays watching special teams behind closed doors by myself with a clicker in my hand. On Mondays I watch offense and defense films. There's so many things that I have to get done before I start to feel comfortable, and I'm not comfortable yet. So I have to block those other things out."
While preparation for the No. 19 Huskies is crucial, Hazell is also determined to bring a rested and relaxed squad to Ford Field for Friday's showdown.
"The biggest thing from my perspective is to make sure we're fresh Friday night," said Hazell. "We've practiced since August, and the guys have been going at it since well before that. Now it comes down to doing the things that you've done all season long -- nothing new, but doing them better and being fresh at it."
With that in mind, the Flashes are trying to treat the upcoming game of their lives as much like just another game as is humanly possible.
"I think if you start changing stuff now, then guys start wondering," said Payton. "A lot of guys are pretty superstitious, and if you start changing stuff, guys get nervous. You just gotta keep doing what you're doing because that's what got us to this point. We're gonna show up Friday, and we're gonna do what we know how to do."