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2007 Northern Illinois Preview
Posted Jul 17, 2007

Preview 2007 Northern Illinois Huskies

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2007

By Pete Fiutak

- 2007 NIU Offense Preview | 2007 NIU Defense Preview
2007 NIU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Northern Illinois Preview 

The bridesmaid of the MAC for several years under head coach Joe Novak, now there’s a chance Northern Illinois might have an even worse tag: also-ran.

After coming within a miraculous Akron touchdown from being the 2005 MAC champion, NIU basically bowed out of the ace right off the bat with losses to Ohio and Western Michigan before mid-October. With the West getting far tougher than in past seasons, it wasn’t just Toledo the Huskies had to contend with. Now there has to be a big concern the program has hit a ceiling.

Head coach: Joe Novak
12th year: 62-66
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 19, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Huskie Players
1. DE Larry English, Jr.
2. LB Tim McCarthy, Jr.
3. WR Britt Davis, Jr.
4. C Eddie Adamski, Soph.
5. TE Brandon Davis, Sr.
6. DT Craig Rusch, Jr.
7. QB Dan Nicholson, Jr.
8. PK Chris Nendick, Sr.
9. WR/KR Marcus Perez, Jr.
10. CB Melvin Rice, Jr.

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 6-6

Sept. 1

Iowa (in Chicago)

Sept. 8

Southern Illinois

Sept. 15

Eastern Michigan

Sept. 22

at Idaho

Sept. 29

at  Central Mich

Oct. 6

at Temple

Oct. 13

Western Michigan

Oct. 20

at Wisconsin

Oct. 27

at Toledo

Nov. 10

Kent State

Nov. 17

at Navy

Nov. 24

Ball State

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2006 Record:
Preview 2006 predicted wins

9/2 at Ohio State L 35-12
9/9 Ohio L 35-23
9/16 Buffalo W 31-13
9/23 Indiana State W 48-14
9/30 at Ball State W 40-28
10/7 at Miami Univ W 28-25
10/14 at Western Mich L 16-14
10/21 Temple W 45-21
10/28 at Iowa L 24-14
11/7 Toledo L 17-13
11/17 Central Mich W 31-10
11/24 at Eastern Mich W 27-0
12/19 Poinsettia Bowl
TCU L 37-7

It’s one thing to always come agonizingly close to getting over the hump and not getting the right break, but it’s another to go seven straight years without being able to pull out a championship. While no one deserves a title more than Novak and the program he resurrected from total disaster, and he might finally have the team to end streak of MAC title futility.
Losing RB Garrett Wolfe and star OT Doug Free isn’t a good start, but the offense should turn out to be fine even after an inconsistent season. The attack became way too reliant on Wolfe and forgot about throwing the ball at times. That won’t happen this season if QB Dan Nicholson plays like he did two years ago when he stepped in as a freshman and was tremendous. Now the defense has to learn how to slow down someone’s passing game.

The attacking style and a slew of good veteran mixed with young talent was supposed to mean a big year for the defense, but the secondary turned out to be miserable, the front seven didn’t do enough to get into the backfield even with pass rusher extraordinaire Larry English having a monster year, and there weren’t enough takeaway. Even so, this was a relatively young group that should blossom, especially up front.

If nothing else, NIU has become the most popular MAC program getting plenty of television time and a slew of national attention thanks to Wolfe. Now the team has to start winning more big games to get even more of the spotlight.
What to watch for on offense: The running game, even without Wolfe, won’t dip much, if at all. Novak and his staff have created a factory for productive runners, and that won’t stop this year. Montell Clanton and Justin Anderson might not be Wolfe, but they can run. The offensive line should reload without a problem even after losing two starters. Helping the cause will be a good passing attack to keep defenses honest, with Britt Davis and Marcus Perez quickly turning into one of the MAC’s premier receiving tandems.

What to watch for on defense: The emphasis on getting to the ball will still allow for too many big plays. The secondary has been ripped up too often on the deep plays, but that’s part of the deal when you’re as aggressive as NIU is. With a good overall nucleus returning led by two likely All-MAC stars in English and LB Tim McCarthy, the positive momentum from the end of the regular season should continue.

The team will be far better if … the special teams improve. Chris Nendick is an elite kicker and Marcus Perez leads a fantastic group of punt returners, but there has to be more on kickoff returns after averaging just 17.33 yards per try. Andy Dittbenner has to get more blast out of the punting game after netting just 32.9 yards per boot.

The Schedule: It’s reasonably decent, but two of the three big showdowns for the West title, against Central Michigan and Toledo, are on the road. Fortunately, the Western Michigan game is at home as an oasis in a stretch of five road games. Getting Temple as the one game against the East is a monster break. The non-conference schedule is the MAC’s quirkiest with nasty dates with Iowa (to be played in Chicago) and Wisconsin along with a layup against Southern Illinois, a trip to Idaho, and a date at Navy.

Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Britt Davis. The offense didn't do enough to take advantage of all the good receivers last season (having a back like Garrett Wolfe would do that), but Davis still have a nice year as the team's number one target catching 57 passes for 731 yards and three scores. He'll do even more this year to make deep plays.

Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Larry English. One of the league's best defensive players, if not the best, he's an unstoppable pass rusher who's also a steady run defender. The only question is a knee injury that kept him out of spring ball, but he's expected to be 100% by the fall.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Dan Nicholson. With no viable options behind him, it'll be sink or swim with Nicholson. The passing game wasn't bad last year, but it didn't do enough to push the ball deep. That'll change this year, and Nicholson, who had an average year after doing a great job as a freshman, has to keep the mistakes in check and has to be a steady decision maker.

The season will be a success if ... NIU wins the MAC title. Expectations will still be high, but for the first time in a while, NIU won’t be the favorite. That might be a good thing. No, this isn’t likely to be the league’s best team, but the coaching staff is great at patching holes and cranking out winners. There can’t be any slips at home and there has to be at least a split of the Central Michigan/Toledo showdowns.

Key game: Sept. 29 at Central Michigan. NIU throttled the eventual MAC champs last year 31-10, but it was too late; the Chippewas had already done what it needed to do to get to the title game. This year, the showdown is the second game in the conference season and a must-win to take the lead in the West race. A loss to CMU would mean NIU would likely have to win out in conference play.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- First quarter scoring: Northern Illinois 115 – Opponents 61
- Fumbles: Opponents 23 (lost 14) – Northern Illinois 11 (lost 4)
- Field goals: Northern Illinois 20 of 27 – Opponents 9 of 17


Related Stories
2007 Northern Illinois Preview - Offense
 -by  Jul 17, 2007
2007 Northern Illinois Preview - Defense
 -by  Jul 17, 2007
2007 Northern Illinois Preview - Depth Chart
 -by  Jul 17, 2007

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