2008 CFN Northern Illinois Preview
Northern Illinois DE Larry English
Northern Illinois DE Larry English
Posted May 9, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskies

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2008

By Pete Fiutak

- 2008 Northern Illinois Preview | 2008 NIU Offense
- 2008 NIU Defense | 2008 NIU Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN NIU Preview | 2006 CFN NIU Preview 

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Marry Christmas, Jerry Kill.

The excellent former head man at Southern Illinois is walking into one of the best situations a first year MAC head coach could dream of. Not only is NIU a solid program, thanks to years of building by former head man Joe Novak, but Kill should be able to pull off one of the biggest immediate turnarounds in the country.

Head coach: Jerry Kill
15th year overall: 104-57
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 25, Def. 28, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 9
Ten Best Huskie Players
1. DE Larry English, Sr.
2. RB Justin Anderson, Jr.
3. LB Alex Kube, Soph.
4. LB Tim McCarthy, Sr.
5. DT Craig Rusch, Sr.
6. OT Jon Brost, Jr.
7. C Eddie Adamski, Jr.
8. WR Britt Davis, Sr.
9. WR Matt Simon, Sr.
10. DT Alex Krutsch, Sr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 4-8
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 at Minnesota
Sept. 6 at Western Michigan
Sept. 13 OPEN DATE
Sept. 20 Indiana State
Sept. 27 at Eastern Michigan
Oct. 4 at Tennessee
Oct. 11 Miami Univ.
Oct. 18 Toledo
Oct. 25 Bowling Green
Nov. 5 at Ball State
Nov. 12 Central Michigan
Nov. 18 at Kent State
Nov. 25 Navy

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 6-6
2007 Record:

Sept. 1 Iowa (in Chic) L 16-3
Sept. 8 So Illinois L 34-31
Sept. 15 Eastern Mich L 21-19
Sept. 22 at Idaho W 42-35
Sept. 29 at Central Mich L 35-10
Oct. 6
at Temple L 16-15
Oct. 13 Western Mich L 17-13
Oct. 20 at Wisconsin L 44-3
Oct. 27 at Toledo L 70-21
Nov. 10
Kent State W 27-20
Nov. 17 at Navy L 35-24
Nov. 24
Ball State L 27-21

Last year's 2-10 record was a total mirage. Oh sure, there were going to be issues even if the team was completely healthy, the passing game was going to be inconsistent and the run defense was likely to be an issue, but no one had injury issues like NIU suffered. Not only were there problems throughout the season, but 22 players missed time this spring trying to recover.

Star tackling linebacker Tim McCarthy will be back from a knee injury. Top receivers Britt Davis and Matt Simon are getting over shoulder injuries. The best defensive tackle, Craig Rusch, is coming back from a knee injury, starting quarterback Dan Nicholson is coming off a shoulder injury, and key running back Montell Clanton is coming off an ACL. Those are just a few of the players who made last season inconsistent and, in the end, a nightmare.

Now the banged up stars are expected to be back and ready to roll, and with 55 returning lettermen, and just nine gone, and with 21 returning starters, this veteran team should start to win almost all the close games after going 0-5 in games decided by six points or fewer.

However, it's not like Kill doesn't have work to do. He wasn't able to implement everything he wanted to do this spring with so many banged up players. He still has a quarterback situation to figure out, he has to improve the run defense, and while almost everyone is expected to be back good as new, there's no guarantee that the healthy problems won't kick in again.

While sports shouldn't have to take on the role as a healer for more pressing and important off-the-field issues, an improved football team, and the notoriety that comes from it, should help a bit after the tragedy of last February. At the very least, this won't be another 2-10 campaign, and it should be a whole bunch more. 
What to watch for on offense: A variety of formations depending on the personnel. Depending on who's under center, the offense will go to a pro style attack, a spread formation, and everything else possible to take advantage of the matchups. There will be some shotgun for a different look, and there will be plenty of tinkering going on to get things going.

What to watch for on defense: Safety Alex Kube at strongside linebacker. The team's second best defensive player last year behind DE Larry English, Kube was a tackling machine as the last line of defense for the porous run defense. Now Kube will be closer to the line to use his toughness and tackling ability to add more overall production, but can he hold up? He's only 6-1 and 203 pounds.

The team will be far better if … there's a little but of luck in the health department. It was easier to figure out who didn't get hurt by the end of the year than who was banged up, and it killed the season to have so many players have so many problems. If everyone stays healthy, or at least if most of the key players can stay on the field, this will be a potentially dominant team worthy of being considered one of the favorites for the MAC title.

The Schedule:
The new era of NIU football starts out with four road trips in the first five games, highlighted by a key West date at Western Michigan, and then comes the meat of the MAC season. Battling league powers Miami University, Toledo and Bowling Green before going to Ball State would be hard enough, and then there's the date against Central Michigan. Win four of those five and the West title is possible. Win three of them and a bowl dream is still alive. The conference slate ends in mid-November with an off week before finishing with Navy.

Best Offensive Player: Junior RB Justin Anderson. He did everything he could to keep the offense moving with 1,245 yards and eight touchdowns, along with 45 catches for 263 yards and three scores. He finally wore down and got hurt at the end of the year, but he's expected to be back and ready to go after missing spring ball to heal his banged up knee.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Larry English. He's the MAC's most unstoppable pass rusher, at least he's unable to be held down by any blockers. However, he can be held in his tracks by the injury bug. Able to get over a knee injury to become a dominant force again, he suffered a torn pectoral muscle this off-season and missed spring ball.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore SS Mike Sobol. If Sobol can shine at safety, then Kube can stay at linebacker and the Huskies will not only have a tremendous starting trio, helped by the return of Tim McCarthy, but there will be excellent depth to form a solid rotation. If Kube has to go back to the secondary, Josh Allen, who isn't a bad second option, will get the starting nod on the strongside again.

The season will be a success if ... NIU wins the MAC title. That might seem like an insane goal considering the team couldn't get it done in the Novak era and with everyone healthy, but there's so much returning experience, so much depth, and so much potential on both sides of the ball, there's no real reason to shoot for anything lower. Even with the potential for high expectations, a winning season would be a good first step for a team that should be beyond loaded next year.

Key game: Sept. 6 at Western Michigan. Not only is this a vital game against a loaded MAC West foe, but it would make a big statement that NIU is back and ready to be a contender. A loss wouldn't end title hopes, but it would mean there's no room for any mistakes, which isn't a plus with Toledo, Miami and Central Michigan still to play.

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Kickoff return average: Opponents 21.1 yards – Northern Illinois 17.3 yards
- Rushing touchdowns: Opponents 27 – Northern Illinois 11
- Third quarter scoring: Opponents 75 – Northern Illinois 37