2011 Northern Illinois Preview
Northern Illinois RB Jasmin Hopkins
Northern Illinois RB Jasmin Hopkins
Posted Jun 2, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskies

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2011

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dave Doeren
1st year
Ten Best Northern Illinois Players
1. QB Chandler Harnish, Sr.
2. OT Trevor Olson, Sr.
3. DE Sean Progar, Jr.
4. C Scott Wedige, Sr.
5. FS/KR Tommy Davis, Jr.
6. RB Jasmin Hopkins, Sr.
7. OG Logan Pegram, Jr.
8. LB Pat Schiller, Sr.
9. OT Keith Otis, Sr.
10. WR Willie Clark, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Army
Sep. 10 at Kansas
Sep. 17 Wisconsin (in Chicago)
Sep. 24 Cal Poly
Oct. 1 at Central Michigan
Oct. 8 Kent State
Oct. 15 Western Michigan
Oct. 22 at Buffalo
Nov. 1 at Toledo
Nov. 8 at Bowling Green
Nov. 15 Ball State
Nov. 25 Eastern Michigan

Northern Illinois was the best team in the MAC last year. A 26-21 MAC Championship loss to Miami aside, yes, it was the league's best team by a huge margin, coming up with one of the most dominant seasons in conference history.

But at some point, the title has to come.

NIU gagged away the 2005 MAC title to a mediocre Akron team, losing 31-30 in the final seconds on a tremendous deep pass play. Last year, the Huskies went into a puzzling shell against an MU team that got a miraculous bounce and the key plays needed to pull off the shocker, and then they showed how fluky the loss was with a 40-17 obliteration of Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl. And now there's no reason to think that the machine is going to stop just because of little things like a coaching change, the loss of the MAC Player of the Year, a rebuilt defense and the loss of both starting kickers.

NIU wasn't involved in too many close games, outscoring its opponents by an average score of 38 to 19 and with only two of the wins decided by fewer than ten points, and the attack should be great once again with all five starters returning to the MAC's best line and with QB Chandler Harnish leading a loaded group of skill players who won't skip a beat without RB Chad Spann. But that's the easy part.

Enter Dave Doeren, a hot head coaching prospect with the talent, youth, and upward mobility to be the next big thing, and while NIU is probably annoyed after losing Jerry Kill to Minnesota, it'll handle being the stepping-stone for tremendous coaches if the results continue to come. With the talent returning, and with the coaching staff in place to fix the soft spots, this will be the MAC's premier team once again with the potential to do even bigger things.

The defense loses a slew of starters including pass rushing terror Jake Coffman from one end, leading tackler Alex Kube at outside linebacker, and middle linebacker Devon Butler, a star in the making who's out at least this year after being shot in a wrong place/wrong time drive-by incident. Doeren was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and dealt with the linebackers, and he should know how to make a relatively untested group shine.

And now NIU has to finally win a title.

There's no grace period for Doeren and there's no excuse to not win the MAC title, other than the program's inability to actually win the championship. The Huskies got over a huge hump by coming up with their first a bowl win since 2004, and now they need to make up for last season's gaffe by hoisting a trophy in Detroit.

What to watch for on offense: The running backs. Chad Spann ran for 1,388 yards and 22 touchdowns on his way to winning the MAC Player of the Year honor. He was a very good, very talented back, but with all five starters returning to the strong offensive line, and with QB Chandler Harnish a possible Player of the Year if he builds on his tremendous 2010, the production should be just as strong from the rotation of backs. Jasmin Hopkins is a big-time talent with the ability to break off huge runs at any time, averaging 9.6 yards per carry last year on his 38 attempts. Akeem Daniels can fly, Leighton Settle is fast, and Jamal Womble is a power runner. The backs should all combine for well over 2,500 yards.

What to watch for on defense: The linebackers. Alex Kube led the team with 81 tackles and was a strong team leader. Devon Butler did a little bit of everything finishing second on the team with 80 tackles with 4.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, a pick, and five broken up passes, but he's out for at least this year recovering from gunshot wounds. Pat Schiller is back after missing time last year hurt, and the veteran should be the leader. Jordan Delegal is a terrific-looking outside linebacker prospect who's due to breakout, but he actually has to do it. The big question is in the middle where former fullback Victor Jacques and sophomore Cameron Stingily working to replace Butler.

The team will be far better if … the special teams don't stink. Both kickers have to be replaced, which isn't a bad thing for the punting game that finished 105th in the nation, but Michael Cklamovski was decent hitting 17-of-27 on field goals with six of the missed from beyond 40 yards. The return game is good thanks to safety Tommy Davis, but the coverage teams are lousy and the kicking game overall has to be stronger. On the plus side, Jimmie Ward is a serious kick blocker who has to be accounted for.

The schedule: The rebuilding defense will get tested early on with a tougher-than-it-looks home date against Army and its dangerous offense. After going to Kansas against an experienced but still struggling team, the big test comes in Soldier Field in Chicago against Wisconsin. In MAC play, the two best teams on the slate should be Western Michigan and Toledo. The Bronco game is at home at the end of a run of four home games – counting the Badger game – in five weeks, but the Toledo game is on the road. The Huskies have to survive a three game road stretch late in the season, but things ease up at home in late November at home against Ball State and Eastern Michigan.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Chandler Harnish. OT Trevor Olson might be the best offensive player, and RB Jasmin Hopkins should blow up, but the team is now Harnish's. The veteran has been a fixture for the last three years, but he has had problems staying healthy. He stayed on the field after he took over his job in the second game of last year and finished with 836 rushing yards and seven scores and threw for 2,530 yards and 21 touchdowns and just five picks. He can run, he can throw, and he's the leader the team needs.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Sean Progar. Jake Coffman was the star of the line as a regular at getting into the backfield and the leader of the defensive front seven, but Progar was almost as effective. The 6-3, 260-pounder came up with two of his sacks against Toledo, but he was a regular at getting to the quarterback and showed the promise and potential to be the star everything will work around this year.

Key player to a successful season: Junior LB Victor Jacques. Sophomore Cameron Stingily will also be in the hunt for the middle linebacker job, but Jacques is the one who'll get the longest early look. They might end up working in a combination to try to take over for Devon Butler on the inside, and while the stats will be there because of the position, coming up with meaningful plays will be a must; they have to be active.

The season will be a success if … NIU wins the MAC title. Enough. This team was so good last year that even with all the replacements and the changes, a drop-off should still mean it's good enough to be the best team in the conference. Toledo and Western Michigan are nasty and could certainly win the West, and Central Michigan is reemerging, but the Huskies should be good enough to star again. Anything less than a MAC title will be a major disappointment.

Key game: Nov. 11 at Toledo. Beating Western Michigan at home on October 15th is a must, and getting by Central Michigan on the road in the MAC opener will be tough, but the star of the MAC, if it's not NIU, will be a loaded Toledo team. If NIU gets out with the win, the West will probably be won and it'll be on to the title game again. A loss will mean there's probably a lot of work to be done.

2010 Fun Stats:
- First Half Scoring: Northern Illinois 274 – Opponents 147
- Sacks: Northern Illinois 30 for 185 yards – Opponents 13 for 82 yards
- Rushing Touchdowns: Northern Illinois 42 – Opponents 16

- 2011 Northern Illinois Preview | 2011 Northern Illinois Offense
- 2011 Northern Illinois Defense | 2011 Northern Illinois Depth Chart
- Northern Illinois Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006