Today, we’re 90 days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll preview the No. 90 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the Northern Illinois Huskies.
On the heels of an 11-3 season in 2011, which was punctuated by a 38-20 win over Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, the Huskies enter 2012 as a favorite, perhaps along with the Toledo Rockets, to repeat as MAC champs and make yet another bowl appearance at the turn of 2013.
Junior Jordan Lynch will take over as the Huskies’ signal caller this fall after spending time between Chandler Harnisch who graduated recently. Lynch has been waiting in the wings for three years now and should pounce on the opportunity to lead Northern Illinois to another successful season on the gridiron.
Junior running backs Akeem Daniels and Leighton Settle will carry the majority of the load on first and second down and long yardage situations, while change-up short yardage back Jamal Womble will see the short-yardage and goal line situations.
A somewhat questionable offensive line will be the biggest question to be answered for head coach Dave Doeren and offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar. The Huskies will see a substantial drop in experience level after the loss of the starting front five from 2011 and several guys will need to step up and make an impact from Day 1 for the skill players to be able to do their thing.
Given this lack of experience, Jordan Lynch could often be on the run, and it will be imperative for the wide receiving corps– led by Martel Moore and Perez Ashford– will need to create space with consistency and force to allow Lynch time to throw with accuracy.
In general, there’s plenty to be proven on the offensive side of the ball, and how guys do, or do not rise to the occasion will play a huge role in the Huskies’ 2012 season.
A defensive unit which encountered plenty of trial by fire in 2011, enters 2012 with plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Jason Meehan, Nabal Jefferson and Alan Baxter anchor a defensive front that should do plenty to terrorize opposing MACtion quarterbacks this fall. Between them, the trio posted 120 tackles last season, 20.5 of which were for a loss– not a bad number for a group that will lead the Huskies into the fray this fall.
Sophomore linebackers Jamaal Bass and Michael Santacaterina will be asked to step up and take control in the defensive backfield for Ryan Nielsen’s defensive unit. Devon Butler may also see some early-season time depending on how things pan out in regards to some recent off-field extra-curriculars the team is dealing with in regards to Bass.
The defensive secondary is largely intact and is arguably the most experienced unit on either side of the ball for Northern. Jhony Faustin, Sean Evans and Dechane Durante will all have big play-making responsibility as ball-hawks and coverage guys this fall.
The Huskies open against an Iowa Hawkeyes team at Soldier Field which is always unpredictable. A win in Chicago would be a nice early jolt to get the season rolling in the right direction prior to a Week Two tilt with Tennessee-Martin in Dekalb.
Army, Kansas, and Central Michigan round out the non-conference schedule prior to the start of the second season of MACtion.
A solid 3-2 start, or better, in non-conference will give the Huskies the momentum they need to make another run at a MAC Championship and return bowl bid in 2013.