2012 Northern Illinois Preview
Northern Illinois DB Jimmy Ward
Northern Illinois DB Jimmy Ward
Posted May 10, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskies

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2012

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dave Doeren
2nd year: 11-3
Ten Best NIU Players
1. DE Sean Progar, Sr.
2. LB Devon Butler, Jr.
3. LB Tyrone Clark, Sr.
4. WR Martel Moore, Sr.
5. FS Jimmie Ward, Jr.
6. DE Alan Baxter, Sr.
7. WR/KR Tommylee Lewis, Soph.
8. QB Jordan Lynch, Jr.
9. WR Perez Ashford, Sr.
10. CB Rashaan Melvin, Sr.
2012 Schedule

Sep. 1 Iowa (in Chicago)
Sep. 8 UT Martin
Sep. 15 at Army
Sep. 22 Kansas
Sep. 29 Cental Michigan
Oct. 6 at Ball State
Oct. 13 Buffalo
Oct. 20 at Akron
Oct. 27 at Western Michigan
Nov. 3 Massachusetts
Nov. 14 Toledo
Nov. 23 at Eastern Michigan

Northern Illinois finally got over the MAC championship hump, but now it has to show it can keep it going.

Dave Doeren is destined for a bigger program in the near future – it's a shocker that he didn't get the Kansas gig – and this needs to be the season to show that he can not only inherit a great situation and work with it, but also reload and rebuild a little bit.

With a veteran offensive line loaded with proven starters, a great running game, and a MAC Player of the Year quarterback in Chandler Harnish, Doeren had everything he needed to succeed. A defensive coach, he was able to do just enough with the other side of the ball to get by, while Harnish did his thing behind the great line to help carry the team to 11 wins. This year, though, Harnish isn't around to rely on, the O line needs to be almost totally retooled, and there are question marks at running back.

But don't expect anyone to cry for the Huskies.

Central Michigan was able to string together three MAC titles in four years from 2006 to 2009 without as much talent as NIU has had over the last several seasons, and now it's up to Doeren to take one of the league's top programs and make it a true dynasty.

Considering NIU went from 1991 to 1999 without a winning season, the turnaround into a powerhouse can't be taken for granted. From 2000 to 2011 there was only one clunker going 2-10 in 2007 and with one other losing season – going 6-7 after losing a bowl game – in 2008, but the last two seasons have been truly special and showed how the program has turned a corner going 22-6. Forgetting that Miami University actually won the MAC title in 2010, this has been the league's top team by far over the last two seasons.

It might be this year, too, thanks to an improved defense that gets key linebackers Devon Butler and Tyrone Clark back after missing all of last season, and it should be dominant on the end with Sean Progar and Alan Baxter returning. Throw in the veteran secondary and there's reason to hope for the D to be a positive instead of being just along for the ride.

Losing Harnish will hurt, but Jordan Lynch looked great this offseason and appears ready to run the attack just fine, and while the O line needs time to develop, the passing game should be excellent with one of the MAC's most dangerous receiving corps.

Another MAC title should be there for the taking, and after waiting so long to get the prize last season it's okay to get a little greedy.

What to watch for on offense: New offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar isn't going to change things up too much from what Matt Canada did, but the attack might gear a bit more to the passing game early on. NIU will always look first and foremost to cranking out a dominant ground attack, and the production should come from a nice rotation of backs as well as from mobile quarterback Jordan Lynch, but the stars early on are in the receiving corps with Martel Moore, Perez Ashford, and rising prospect Tommylee Lewis all able to break games open on their own. With a line that needs a lot of retooling, Lynch will have to get the ball in the hands of his top targets as soon as possible.

What to watch for on defense: The D struggled to stop the run early and had problems stopping the good passing games throughout, but that could all change in a big hurry. The linebacking corps was decent – Pat Schiller led the team with 115 stops with ten tackles for loss – but it was missing Devon Butler, who was spending the year recovering from a gunshot wound and didn't have suspended big-hitter Tyrone Clark. Both are back and ready to roll along with great-looking sophomore Jamaal Bass to give the Huskies one of the MAC's best linebacking corps to go along with a great pass rush up front. The production should be better across the board.

The team will be far better if … the offensive line can come together right away. Great front fives have been a staple of the program over the last decade with Huskies regulars on MAC all-star teams and as a rock on the way to last year's title. This year, though, there's a ton of work to do up front with battles at left tackle, center, and potentially right guard going up until late summer and with the one sure-thing starter, left guard Logan Pegram, just okay. The new starters in the offensive backfield will be fine and the defense will be solid, but forget about a repeat title if the O line doesn't come together quickly.

The schedule: It'll be a season of easy layups with the occasional battle. Starting off against Iowa in Chicago might seem like a sure-thing loss after what happened against Wisconsin in Soldier Field last season, but the Hawkeyes have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball and could be nailed in the season opener. UT-Martin, at Army, and Kansas are all winnable non-conference dates before kicking off the MAC season with a revenge date against Central Michigan – the last team to beat the Huskies last year. That's followed up by three road games in four weeks finished off by a make-or-break showdown with Western Michigan. The Toledo game is at home and road dates against Ball State, Akron, and Eastern Michigan are all winnable for any team good enough to win the MAC title.

Best offensive player: Senior WRs Martel Moore and Perez Ashford. QB Jordan Lynch had a great offseason and could be the star of the show in a hurry, and do-it-all playmaker Tommylee Lewis is on the verge of doing big things, but the main men should be Moore and Ashford after each tied for the team lead with 47 catches. Moore is the deep threat with 747 yards and seven scores averaging 15.9 yards per grab, while Ashford averaged 11.3 yards per catch with three touchdowns. They'll each come up with their share of huge plays.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Sean Progar. Middle linebacker Devon Butler will lead the team in tackles and safety Jimmie Ward and corner Rashaan Melvin should be in for big seasons, but everything works around Progar who's a proven pass rusher and all-around defender making 52 stops with 5.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. With Alan Baxter on the other side taking attention away, Progar should be in for a huge final year.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore C Mike Gegnar or redshirt freshman Andrew Ness. NIU has been used to elite center play over the last several years, and now it'll be a fight between the 283-pound Gegnar and the 286-pound Ness to try to step in and take over the job. The line has to replace four starters, and while it's a good-sized group and while there's upside, it needs a leader and an anchor to work around. That'll come from the middle – eventually.

The season will be a success if … the Huskies win the MAC title. The bar has been set at conference championship or bust with nothing else – not even a bowl win – enough. There's a ton of work to do on the offense and there are few landmines to deal with, but the program tasted success and now there's no setting the expectations any lower.

Key game: Oct. 27 at Western Michigan. The Toledo showdown will be interesting and Central Michigan is better, but both of those games are in DeKalb. Western Michigan will be one of the favorites to win the MAC title, so considering that both the Huskies and Broncos should be better than anyone in the East this could be the real conference championship game.

2011 Fun Stats:
- 4th quarter: Opponents 143 – Northern Illinois 140
- Fourth Down Conversions: Northern Illinois 11-of-14 (79%) – Opponents 19-of-32 (59%)
- Sacks: Northern Illinois 28 for 229 yards – Opponents 12 for 90 yards

- 2012 Northern Illinois Preview | 2012 Northern Illinois Offense
- 2012 Northern Illinois Defense | 2012 Northern Illinois Depth Chart