Northern Illinois Preview 2006
Posted Aug 7, 2006

How many times can Lucy keep pulling the football away from Charlie Brown?

Offense | Defense | Depth Chart | Further Analysis

Northern Illinois is eight years removed from when it was one of the worst teams in the MAC, so the rags-to-riches angle doesn't really apply anymore. Six straight winning seasons and several high profile wins have changed Joe Novak's program to the point where there are now big expectations.

Last year finally appeared to be the season that Novak would finally get over the hump and win the MAC title game. It wasn't his best team ever, but it got over its biggest annual hurdle, Toledo, and only had to beat an average Akron team to finally bring home the goal that had been so elusive.

One miraculous Luke Getsy to to Domenik Hixon touchdown pass later, NIU lost 31-30 and not only missed out on a title, it was left out of the bowl picture while Toledo went off and blasted UTEP in the GMAC Bowl.

Good grief.

Head coach: Joe Novak
11th year: 54-60
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 17, Def. 23, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Huskie Players
1. RB Garrett Wolfe, Sr.
2. OT Doug Free, Sr.
3. QB Phil Horvath, Sr.
4. OT Jon Brost, Soph.
5. FS Dustin Utschig, Sr.
6. DE Larry English, Soph.
7. DE Ken West, Sr.
8. WR Britt Davis, Soph.
9. QB Dan Nicholson, Soph.
10. OK Chris Nendick, Jr. 

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction:

9/2 at Ohio State
9/9 Ohio
9/16 Buffalo
9/23 Indiana State
9/30 at Ball State
10/7 at Miami University
10/14 at Western Michigan
10/21 Temple
10/28 at Iowa
11/7 Toledo
11/17 Central Michigan
11/24 at Eastern Michigan

2005 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 8-3
2005 Record:
Preview 2005 predicted wins

9/3 at Michigan L 33-17
9/10 at Northwestern L 38-37
9/17 Tennessee Tech W 42-3
9/24 at Akron L 48-42 OT
10/5 Miami Univ. W 38-27
10/15 Eastern Mich W 24-8
10/22 at Kent State W 34-3
10/29 Ball State L 31-17
11/5 at Central Mich W 31-28
11/16 at Toledo W 35-17
11/22 Western Mich W 42-7
12/1 MAC Championship
Akron L 31-30

The biggest key this season will be consistency. Toledo is the only MAC team as good as NIU, but the rest of the league has gotten better providing landmines all over the place. Last year, the Huskies were able to beat Miami University, Toledo (at Toledo), and came within a controversial two-point conversion attempt of winning at Northwestern, but lost twice to Akron and once to Ball State. A team good enough to have battle Michigan in the season opener, only to get killed by penalties, shouldn't lose to last year's Ball State team.

Yes, the Sisyphus of the MAC is going to roll that boulder back up the mountain again this year with a team loaded with as much talent as anyone in the league led by All-America candidates Garrett Wolfe at running back and Doug Free at offensive tackle. There's speed, skill, and enough depth in most spots to overcome a disaster if injuries hit. In other words, there's no reason to shoot for anything lower than a repeat trip to the title game and a shot at winning it all.

The Schedule: There are two brutal Big Ten landmines playing at Ohio State and Iowa, but other than that, it's a piece of cake. Yeah, the Huskies have to go to Miami University, but the Toledo showdown is in DeKalb, and missing Bowling Green is never a bad thing. Playing Ohio, Buffalo, Indiana State, and at Ball State early should mean a 4-1 start for any team good enough to dream of a MAC title. Divisional road games at Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan might be more dangerous than they look on paper.

Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Garrett Wolfe. Tackle Doug Free is the better pro prospect, but Wolfe is the star. It'll take 1,706 rushing yards to pass Michael Turner on the NIU all-time rushing list, but it might not be the worst thing in the world if Wolfe doesn't have to be used enough to get to that mark. Even though he's a tough 5-7 and 173 pounds, he's not indestructible.

Best Defensive Player: Senior FS Dustin Utschig. Easily the team's biggest surprise, Utshig came from out of nowhere to lead the team in tackles last season and interceptions. He's a tough tackler who was always in the right position and never missed a tackle. He not only has to be productive again, he has to stay on the field with little developed safety depth.

Key player to a successful season: Junior NT Zack Holycross. There's no size whatsoever on the NIU front line since the coaching staff chooses to go with smaller, quicker players. That means the 284-pound Holycross, and his backup, the 273-pound Adam Schroeder, have to hold up or the bigger MAC lines will steamroll over the Huskie front seven. Shudder to think what Ohio State and Iowa might do if Holycross isn't a top run stopper.

The season will be a success if ... Northern Illinois wins the MAC title. It's never fun to get to a point where anything less but a championship is a failure of a season, but that's where the Huskies are at.

Key game: Nov. 7 vs. Toledo. The Rockets had absolutely owned the Huskies until a stunning 35-17 NIU win last year in the Glass Bowl changed all of that. These should be the two best teams in the MAC with the winner of this nationally televised showdown almost certain to represent the West in the conference title.

2005 Fun Stats: 
- Completion percentage: Northern Illinois 68% - Opponents 57%
- Red zone scoring percentage: Northern Illinois 91% - Opponents 75%
- Fourth down conversions: Northern Illinois 8 of 12 (67%) - Opponents 9 of 21 (43%)

The Last Time Northern Illinois…
…played in a bowl game…2004 (Silicon Valley Bowl vs. Troy)
…missed a bowl game…2005
…pitched a shutout…2002 (Central Michigan)
…was shutout…1999 (Iowa)
…scored 50 points…2004 (Western Michigan)
…went undefeated…never
…won a conference title…1983 (MAC)
…had a 3,000-yard passer…1963 (George Bork)
…had a 1,000-yard rusher…2005 (Garrett Wolfe)
…had a 1,000-yard receiver…2005 (Sam Hurd)
…had a first-round draft choice…never

Related Stories
Northern Illinois Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by  Aug 7, 2006
Northern Illinois Preview 2006 - F. Analysis
 -by  Aug 7, 2006
Northern Illinois Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by  Aug 7, 2006

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