2014 CFN Preview - Northern Illinois Huskies
Northern Illinois WR Tommylee Lewis
Northern Illinois WR Tommylee Lewis
Posted Jul 13, 2014

Preview 2014 - Is it possible to sustain the success without Jordan Lynch? (Getty Images)

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak 

- 2014 Northern Illinois Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Rod Carey
2nd year: 12-2
Ten Best NIU Players
1. OT Tyler Loos, Sr.
2. WR Tommylee Lewis, Sr.
3. LB Jamaal Bass, Sr.
4. WR Da'Ron Brown, Sr.
5. S Dechane Durante, Sr.
6. RB Cameron Stingily, Sr.
7. QB Matt McIntosh, Jr.
8. LB Boomer Mays, Jr.
9. C Andrew Ness, Jr.
10. DE Jason Meehan, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 Presbyterian
Sep. 6 at Northwestern
Sep. 13 at UNLV
Sep. 20 at Arkansas
Oct. 4 Kent State
Oct. 11 Central Michigan
Oct. 18 Miami Univ.
Oct. 25 at Eastern Michigan
Nov. 5 at Ball State
Nov. 11 Toledo
Nov. 18 at Ohio
Nov. 28 at Western Michigan

Northern Illinois might not have won the MAC title, and it might not have gone to a BCS game, but after a second straight 12-2 season, and with wins over Iowa and Purdue, it showed it was still the MAC’s top powerhouse. Can the Huskies sustain the success, or were the last two games of last year – losses to Bowling Green and Utah State – indicative of what’s about to come?

Did Utah State figure out the Huskie attack after getting a few weeks to prepare, and did the Bowling Green offense expose all the problems on defense? Yeah, but that was last season, and now head coach Rod Carey has another strong team returning that might just find a way to be just as explosive on offense and even stingier on defense.

At least that’s the hope.

No, you don’t get better after losing a quarterback like Jordan Lynch and an NFL safety in Jimmie Ward, and yes, losing the entire defensive front four stinks, but Northern Illinois wasn’t just about No. 6 running up and down the field. If the overall goal of any program is to build for sustained success, NIU has done it with four straight appearances in the MAC championship, four straight double-digit win seasons, and six straight bowl appearances, despite coaching changes and key personnel losses of top-shelf players. This year, though, there’s a big shift with Carey needing to show he can keep things going without Lynch to carry the load.

The MAC West is by far the stronger of the two divisions – again – with Ball State, Central Michigan and Toledo all good enough to take a spot in the title game, and Northern Illinois is once again the circle game on the schedule. But now the program is at a point where it can handle the success, handle the expectations, and look to reload rather than do any real rebuilding.

It all starts at quarterback where Matt McIntosh and Drew Hare are NIU-like signal callers who have to try to replace a legend, but they have a fantastic line to work behind, a 1,000-yard back in Cameron Stingily to hand off to, and a loaded receiving corps to take the pressure off.

The defense might lose George Rainey and all the starters up front, but there’s a good young group ready to step up and produce, led by ends Perez Ford and Jason Meehan. The linebackers are experienced and active, and the Ward-less secondary has potential all-stars, even if it doesn’t have an NFL-caliber talent.

So is this the favorite to win the MAC title? Can it be five straight trips to Detroit? The star of the conference is built for this sort of transition, and while there won’t be any big game bowl talk this year, the Huskies should keep on rolling.

What to watch for on offense: Expect more from the passing game. Jordan Lynch might have been known more as a runner, but he could throw a little bit, too, hitting 63% of his passes for 2,892 yards and 24 touchdowns with eight picks. Chandler Harnish, a better overall thrower, had similar stats in 2011, but wasn’t nearly the same runner. Can the Huskies keep up the tradition of great all-around quarterbacks? The receiving corps is in place to crank out bigger numbers through the air, and while the offense will still revolve around the ground attack, with Tommylee Lewis and Da’Ron Brown to get the ball to, the Huskies have to use their receivers to make big plays.

What to watch for on defense: The defensive line needs to load up. Fantastic at getting into the backfield last season, the Huskie defensive front ripped teams up last season with George Rainey and Joe Windsor leading the way. Jason Meehan returns after doing a great job in the rotation, but all four starters at the end of last year are gone from a defense that generated 72 tackles for loss and 34 sacks. Remember, the defensive line was a big concern going into last year, and all turned out to be fine. This year, though, with so many losses in the secondary, the last thing NIU needs is to worry about getting to the quarterback.

The team will be far better if … the pass defense can tighten up. That’s not going to be easy without Jimmy Ward at strong safety and Sean Evans at one corner, but Dechane Durante is a terrific safety to work around and Paris Logan is a solid corner who needs to lock down a bit more. To be fair, teams had to keep throwing to keep up the pace with the NIU offense, but the secondary went bye-bye in the MAC championship loss to Bowling Green, allowing 393 yards and five touchdowns as Matt Johnson did whatever he wanted. The defense gave up too many first downs and was ripped up by the good passers on the slate, however, it picked off 19 passes. The defensive backs have to make up for the big plays allowed by coming up with third down stops.

The Schedule: How good are the Huskies? They’ll know right away after starting out the season against Presbyterian with road games at Northwestern, UNLV and Arkansas in a row before the end of September. There’s a break with three straight winnable home games against Kent State, Central Michigan and Miami University, but four of the final five games are on the road wrapped around a key home game against Toledo – that’s the last game of the year in DeKalb. There’s no Bowling Green or Buffalo to face from the East, but the Huskies have to go to Ohio.

Best offensive player: Senior OT Tyler Loos. The biggest key is staying healthy. When he’s right, he’s the best all-around blocker in the MAC, and he’ll be the centerpiece of a great line that could be the team’s biggest strength early on. A good recruit, he saw a little time before missing a year with a knee injury. In 2012, he dominated before breaking his leg late in the year, and he got hurt last year. An anchor, he’s equally good in pass protection and for the ground game – his athleticism for his size is terrific.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Jamaal Bass. The Huskies have a few good defenders returning in the back seven, with Boomer Mays a big hitter in the middle and Dechane Durante two good leaders, but Bass is the one with the best resume and the most experience having gone through the battles over the last few years. He’s not all that big, but he’s a good hitter and he’s physical on the outside. Will he be sent into the backfield more with all four starters gone from the defensive front? No, but he should be one of the MAC’s leading tacklers.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Matt McIntosh or sophomore QB Drew Hare. How do you possibly follow a legend? How to do you replace a quarterback who ran for 3,735 yards and 42 touchdowns over the last two seasons? How do you take over for the player who led the way for a MAC school to play in a BCS game and through two undefeated regular seasons? Remember, there was a time when the big concern was about who would replace Chandler Harnish. McIntosh and Hare look the part, and while they’re not going to run like Lynch, they can throw, and the starter should be able to keep the offense moving.

The season will be a success if ... the Huskies win the MAC title. Why expect anything less? The program has shown it’s able to reload, and while it might not be the party crasher it was over the last few seasons, it gets a few key games at home and has the ability and the personnel to make it five straight trips to Detroit. At this point, there’s no reason to aim lower – just going to a bowl game isn’t going to be enough.

Key game: Sept. 6 at Northwestern. Is there life after Lynch? Can Northern Illinois once again be the power it was over the last few seasons? After getting a week against Presbyterian to tune up, the Huskies get a shot to make a big statement in Evanston to kick off a run of three straight road games. Win that, and the expectations go through the roof. In MAC play, NIU has to beat Toledo at home, and has to deal with road games at Ball State and Ohio, but the NU game will get more attention, one way or another.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Rushing Yards Per Game: NIU 4,161 – Opponents 2,120
- Sacks: NIU 34 for 203 yards – Opponents 11 for 65 yards
- Second Half Scoring: NIU 268 – Opponents 130
- 2014 Northern Illinois Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players