There’s no place like home. That’s how the old saying goes, anyway. In college football, it’s especially true.
Students gather by the thousands for home kickoffs. Alumni return to their school. Each Saturday the home team plays inside its stadium feels like a holiday.
Winning, of course, is paramount.
South Carolina’s success inside Williams-Brice Stadium the past three seasons is no secret. The Gamecocks won their 15th straight game against Mississippi State two weeks ago, tying a program record. They haven’t lost a home game since a 16-13 defeat to Auburn on Oct. 1, 2011.
When Michigan lost to Nebraska in the Big House on Saturday, it snapped the nation’s longest home winning streak. Now, South Carolina holds that title. It’s a source of pride, something USC coach Steve Spurrier mentioned in his opening statement during Tuesday’s weekly news conference.
“We all realize our home win streak is on the line,” Spurrier said, referencing his team’s upcoming game Saturday against Florida. “I think we’ve got the best in the nation right now, the longest home winning streak. We certainly hope to keep that alive.”
It is the nation’s longest home winning streak, as recognized by the NCAA. Except, depending who you ask, South Carolina is still stuck at No. 2.
Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference has won 25 consecutive games inside Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill, the latest coming Wednesday night against Ball State. NIU hasn’t lost a game inside its home venue since a 34-31 defeat to Idaho on Sept. 26, 2009.
In its Ball State game notes, NIU boasts its football team “leads the nation with 24 consecutive victories in its home stadium dating back to 2009. The 2013 seniors have never lost a home game.”
So, how could the NCAA recognize South Carolina as the team that holds the nation’s longest home winning streak? It’s all about geography.
Twice since NIU’s “home stadium” streak began, the program has taken advantage of its close location to Chicago. The Huskies moved two home games to Soldier Field — home of the Chicago Bears — in the past three seasons.
NIU lost both games: One was an 18-17 nail biter against Iowa in the 2012 season opener; the other a 49-7 shellacking against Wisconsin in 2011.
Both games were technically considered home games, even if they were played in a neutral location.
Maybe NIU beats Iowa if the game is played in its home venue instead of a neutral field. It does not beat Wisconsin inside Huskie Stadium, Soldier Field or on Mars. I covered NIU for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle in 2011. I was in the press box for that game. I can attest Russell Wilson was way too much for the Huskies, who eventually won their first MAC championship in 28 years.
(In case you’re wondering, had NIU beaten Iowa inside its home stadium but lost to Wisconsin, that “home stadium” winning streak would currently sit at 15 games.)
So, we arrive at this fascinating debate. On the basis of winning 15 straight true home games, does South Carolina have the nation’s longest winning streak? On the basis of winning 25 straight games inside its home stadium, does that title belong to Northern Illinois?
I see legitimate arguments for both programs. It makes sense for a home win to be considered a win inside your home stadium, not on a neutral field. That said, just because a non-BCS program decides to move big-money games — and, by extension, the most difficult games — to a neutral field doesn’t magically mean it isn’t hosting the game.
For that reason, if I had to choose, I’d side with South Carolina. Which, as it turns out, is how the NCAA feels. Case closed.