2009 CFN Northern Illinois Preview
Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish
Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish
Posted Jun 12, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskies

Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2009

By Pete Fiutak

- 2009 Northern Illinois Preview | 2009 NIU Offense
- 2009 NIU Defense | 2009 NIU Depth Chart
- 2008 NIU Preview | 2007 NIU Preview | 2006 NIU Preview

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Head coach: Jerry Kill
2nd year: 6-7
16th year overall: 110-64
Ten Best Huskie Players
1. C Eddie Adamski, Sr.
2. DE Brandon Bice, Sr.
3. FS David Bryant, Sr.
4. LB Alex Kube, Jr.
5. QB Chandler Harnish, Soph.
6. OG Jason  Onyebuagu, Sr.
7. OT Trevor Olson, Soph.
8. LB Cory Hanson, Sr.
9. RB Me'co Brown, Soph.
10. RB Chad Spann, Jr. 

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:

2009 Record: 0-0

9/5 at Wisconsin
9/12 Western Illinois
9/19 at Purdue
9/26 Idaho
10/3 Western Michigan
10/1 at Toledo
10/24 at Miami Univ.
10/31 Akron
11/5 Eastern Michigan
11/12 Ball State
11/21 at Ohio
11/27 at Central Michigan

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 4-8
2008 Record: 6-7

8/30 at Minnesota L 31-27
9/6 at Western Mich L 29-26
9/20 Indiana State W 48-3
9/27 at Eastern Mich W 37-0
10/4 at Tennessee L 13-9
10/11 Miami Univ. W 17-13
10/18 Toledo W 38-7
10/25 Bowling Green W 16-13
11/5 at Ball State L 45-14
11/12 Central Mich L 33-30 OT
11/18 at Kent State W 42-14
11/25 Navy L 16-0
Independence Bowl
12/28 Louisiana Tech L 17-10

The conventional wisdom was that Jerry Kill was walking into a goldmine.

NIU went 2-10 in 2007 but was one of the nation's hard-luck teams with as bad a run of injury luck as any team could possibly have to deal with. The injuries, on top of the year of rebuilding needing to be done, made the Huskies a sleeper team going into last year, and Kill and his staff helped speed up the overall process. Now the question is whether or not NIU is ready to take another step forward or if more building needs to be done.

2007 wasn't just a good bounce-back year; it was a season that was this close to being truly special. The Huskies were a fourth down stop away from beating Minnesota in the season opener, lost to Western Michigan by three, lost to Tennessee in a heartbreaker, and lost to Central Michigan in overtime. While there were some close wins over lousy teams, too, last season showed that the team lacked enough overall consistency to come up with every big win possible. While this year's team has some major holes to fill, it could be better overall.

The line play should be terrific. The offensive front doesn't have a superstar, but center Eddie Adamski leads a talented group that has solid depth and good size. The defensive front looses Larry English, possibly the greatest defensive end to ever play in the MAC, but there's a relatively quiet confidence around the program that the line might turn out to be better as the season goes on with a slew of tremendous prospects ready to be in the spotlight. English might be gone, but Brandon Bice is an all-star and Jake Coffman is a nice new face in the mix.

The linebacking corps could be the best in the MAC, if Pat Schiller is as impressive in the middle as he was all offseason, and the safeties are deep and talented. The running backs didn't do enough last year, but there are four great options who could all be in the hunt for a starting job anywhere in the league.

And then there's quarterback Chandler Harnish, the team's leading rusher last year and a good all-around playmaker who was asked to do too much as a freshman. While he won't get the publicity of the other top MAC quarterbacks, he could turn out to be one of the most effective players for what NIU wants to do. What NIU wants to do is win.

Kill and his staff have a nice mix of good veterans and dangerous young players waiting in the wings. With more consistency on offense, better play against the run, and more pop in the passing game, this could be a MAC championship season. If it doesn't happen this year, NIU will be the preseason favorite in 2010. But after what happened last year, Kill has no problems with moving up the expectations timetable.
What to watch for on offense: More from the running backs. Me'co Brown, Chad Spann, and Ricky Crider all go around 5-9ish and around 190 pounds. They're smallish, quick backs who can cut on a dime and have the potential to rip off big runs when given the chance. They're all tremendously athletic, and they all have the potential to carry the ground game from time to time. Throw in Justin Anderson into the mix, the star of 2007 who hasn't been able to stay healthy, and NIU is loaded with good runners. So why did QB Chandler Harnish lead the team in rushing with just 539 yards? That will change this season, and while Harnish won't stop running, the backs will carry the ground game.

What to watch for on defense: Pat Schiller. The 6-2, 225-pound sophomore could be the key to the defense. Starting in the middle in place of Tim McCarthy, he could become a statistical all-star with everything being funneled to him. If he's great, the linebacking corps will be special with stars Alex Kube and Cory Hanson on the outside. The line has work to do and the secondary has questions at corner, but the linebackers could carry the team at times against the better MAC spread attacks.

The team will be far better if … the passing game is more efficient. This could be a problem with the receiving corps likely to be the team's weak spot. Harnish was just getting his feet wet last year and he threw too many interceptions over the second half of the season, but he had two nice veterans in Marcus Perez and Matt Simon to help him out. Last year's passing game was 11th in the league in efficiency and 100th in the nation in yards. There's too much speed and too much upside to not get more out of the receivers, even if they might need a little time to take to their starting jobs.

The Schedule:
Playing in the West, the NIU season is all about when and where the games against the heavy hitters come. Last year, the Huskies lost to the big three teams in the division (Ball State, Western Michigan and Central Michigan). This year the Huskies play WMU at home and CMU on the road, with the battle against the Chippewas coming to end the regular season. There's a nice three-game home stretch in the second half of the season, but back-to-back road games at Toledo and Miami University could be sneaky-tough. Missing Buffalo from the East is a plus, but Akron could be a a dangerous team by late October. The non-conference schedule isn't horrible, getting winnable games against Western Illinois and Idaho to go along with road dates at Wisconsin and Purdue.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore QB Chandler Harnish. He threw nine picks over the second half of last year and he struggled to come up with a really big win over a good team, but he has a year of experience now to go along with his combination of mobility and passing skills. Unlike last year when he had a veteran receiving corps to help him out, he has to make everyone around him better.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Brandon Bice. The second-banana on the other side of Larry English, Bice didn't exactly set the world on fire even though everyone was paying attention to the superstar. This year, Bice needs to be a steady pass rusher, and he has the talent to do it. He's quick, tough against the run, and the type of player the rest of the line can work around. However, he needs to step up his game and be even better than last year when he made 6.5 tackles and 12 tackles for loss.

Key player to a successful season: Junior CBs Kiaree Daniels and Patrick George. They have the speed and they have the ability, but it has to translate into production as they step into the starting roles. Unlike recent NIU corner tandems, Daniels and George have to do something to pick off passes. Without English to terrorize quarterbacks, the pass rush won't be as strong. That means the new corners have to be great even though they'll receive less help.

The season will be a success if ... NIU wins the MAC title. If Buffalo could win it last year ... that's what every MAC team is going to say going into the year, but NIU has the combination of talent and experience to make the giant leap forward and win it all. The schedule works out as well as can be asked for, while the coaching staff knows the league now. That's why it'll all likely come down to ...

Key game: Nov. 27 at Central Michigan. The MAC opener against Western Michigan is a must win to give NIU a fighting shot to win the West, but it'll take a victory over the Chippewas to clinch it. At least that's the hope. It could be the MAC game of the year if everything breaks right.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Fourth quarter scoring: Northern Illinois 8 - Opponents 29
- Sacks: Northern Illinois 25 for 143 yards - Opponents 16 for 82 yards
- Time of possession: Northern Illinois 31:58 - Opponents 28:02

- 2009 Northern Illinois Preview
| 2009 NIU Offense
- 2009 NIU Defense | 2009 NIU Depth Chart
- 2008 NIU Preview | 2007 NIU Preview | 2006 NIU Preview