2013 CFN Preview - Northern Illinois Huskies

Posted Jul 20, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskies

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Rod Carey
1st year: 0-1
Returning Lettermen: 55
Off. 28, Def. 24, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best NIU Players
1. QB Jordan Lynch, Sr.
2. OT Tyler Loos, Jr.
3. SS Jimmie Ward, Sr.
4. LB Jamaal Bass, Jr.
5. OT Ryan Brown, Jr.
6. WR/KR Tommylee Lewis, Jr.
7. RB Akeem Daniels, Sr.
8. C Andrew Ness, Soph.
9. CB Marlon Moore, Soph.
10. PK Mathew Sims, Jr. 
2013 Schedule
8/31 at Iowa
9/14 at Idaho
9/21 Eastern Illinois
9/28 at Purdue
10/5 at Kent State
10/12 Akron
10/19 at Central Michigan
10/26 Eastern Michigan
11/2 at UMass
11/13 Ball State
11/20 at Toledo
11/26 Western Michigan
What do you do now for an encore? How about being good enough to go back to a BCS game?

Northern Illinois had a fantastic season, but it wasn't one of the ten best teams in the country and it didn't belong in a BCS game. While other teams and conference champions over the years certainly weren't deserving of playing in one of the big money exhibitions, the 31-10 loss to Florida State didn't do anything to quiet down all the critics who blasted away at the idea of the Huskies not belonging in the fun. Of course, it was about the experience and the exposure for one of the MAC's most consistent programs, but it was still a blowout loss on a national stage.

It's not like NIU catches anyone by surprise, especially in the MAC, but is it possible for everything to break the right way to do it all again?

Iowa and Purdue are hardly world-beaters, and while those two games are on the road, if you're good enough to go to a BCS game, you have to win those two or there's no case. Outside of those two games, there's a trip to Toledo, and … and … Central Michigan? Western Michigan? At least 50 other teams would look at this schedule and start drooling over the possibilities, but NIU is still a MAC program and it's still fighting to get the respect of a team like Boise State – who has its own problems getting national love.

This year's team should be even more devastating on offense. Led by Heisman candidate Jordan Lynch – and he is a Heisman candidate – the attack is loaded with almost all the key parts from last year returning other than leading receiver Martel Moore. The line should be fantastic and there are a slew of talented quick backs who should be able to do more for the ground game.

The defense has to replace five starters in the front seven, but the secondary should be among the best in the MAC. If the special teams aren't the league's best, they're close, and new head coach Rod Carey is a veteran in the program who should be able to pick up where Dave Doeren left off without any sort of a problem.

So is it all enough to lead to another MAC title and another big January bowl? After last year, it'll be hard to get excited about anything less.

What to watch for on offense: Will anyone help out Jordan Lynch? While he's the No. 1 option for the offense, it would be nice if he didn't have to carry the ball 294 times again. There are quick, dangerous running backs ready to get more work, but there could be a problem in the receiving corps with the loss of Martel Moore and his 75 catches. Lynch might be even more effective if all 11 defenders aren't locked in to stop him.

What to watch for on defense: Can the pass rush keep on rocking? Alan Baxter came up with 9.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, while Sean Progar made 8.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Now they're gone, and while there are several other key producers back from a defense that was dominant at getting into the backfield, the two star linemen will be missed. The coaching staff has to make sure the pressure continues to come from all sides and all spots or the defense will take a big step back.

The team will be far better if … it can play like Northern Illinois against a team from a BCS conference. The Huskies dominate in MAC play, but they've brain-cramped in key moments against the big boys. While it didn't matter last season, not being able to get by the bigger schools is a killer for national respect. Yes, there was a win over Kansas, but the Jayhawks went 1-11 without a win over an FBS school. With losses to Iowa and Florida State last season, NIU is 3-19 against BCS-league schools since 2003.

The schedule: Can NIU start out hot with a win at Iowa? Four of the first five and five of the first seven games are on the road, including a showdown at Purdue and a MAC championship rematch against Kent State, but it should be smooth sailing over the second half of the season with Akron, Eastern Michigan and UMass likely wins before closing out with key showdowns against Ball State, Toledo and Western Michigan. The time off comes before going to Idaho and facing BSU, but Toledo and WMU come within six days of each other.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Jordan Lynch. He turned in an epic season with a run of 11 straight 100-yard rushing games, and he wasn't a bad passer, either, throwing a mere six picks with 25 touchdown passes. Steady, tough and productive, most importantly, he led the way to a MAC championship and a trip to the Orange Bowl. Florida State might have kept him under wraps, but it was still one of the greatest statistical seasons any quarterback has ever come up with.

Best defensive player: Senior S Jimmie Ward. It doesn't matter if he's playing free safety or strong safety, Ward is going to be a top tackler. With 234 career stops and four picks with 16 broken up passes, he has been through the battles over the last few seasons, and now he needs to be the leader and star of a retooling defense that replaces five starters up front.

Key player to a successful season: Senior DE George Rainey. The key the NIU defense last season was the pass rushing talents of Sean Progar and Alan Baxter. Both are gone, but senior Joe Windsor appears ready to step up and become the new pass rushing terror at one end. Rainey has the speed and athleticism to crank up the production on the other side, and he needs to come through to help a line that did a great job of being disruptive.

The season will be a success if … it's three in a row. There's too much talent returning on offense and too many good players back on defense and special teams to shoot for anything less than a third straight MAC championship. It might not be a BCS season, but other than the opener at Iowa and possibly the road trip to face former Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell at Purdue, the Huskies won't be an underdog all year.

Key game: Nov. 20 at Toledo. The road back to the MAC championship is going to be a bear, and the Huskies likely can't get back to Detroit without a win over Toledo. The Rockets are good enough to break through and win it all, and they'll be looking at the nationally televised Wednesday night home game to make the big splash.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Punt Returns: Northern Illinois 38 for 882 yards – Opponents 7 for 14 yards
- Penalties: Northern Illinois 83 for 767 yards - Opponents 66 for 629 yards
- Third Quarter Scoring: Northern Illinois 135 – Opponents 48

- 2013 Northern Illinois Preview | 2013 Northern Illinois Offense
- 2013 Northern Illinois Defense | 2013 Northern Illinois Depth Chart