Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 37 Northern Illinois Huskies
The Northern Illinois Huskies took the nation by storm in 2012 and became the first team out of the MAC to bust the BCS. While their trip to the Orange Bowl didn’t turn out quite as well as they might have hoped, it was still a historic run for the Huskies. They return in 2013 looking to snag their third straight conference title and perhaps find a way to get back into the BCS, but this time with a more satisfying result.
Their success last season didn’t come without its consequences. Head coach Dave Doeren left to take the head coaching position with the NC State Wolfpack, but new head coach Rod Carey has been on the staff for the last two seasons. He knows what he has with this roster and has a good sense of how best to utilize it. Will it be enough to get NIU back into the big leagues in 2013?
The Huskies will be helped immensely by the return of their offensive leader, quarterback Jordan Lynch. Lynch did a little bit of everything in 2012 as he led the Huskies through the MAC, passing for 3,138 yards and rushing for 1,815 yards while scoring 44 total touchdowns. He’ll have the benefit of playing behind the exact same line as NIU returns their entire offensive line in 2013 to pave the way for a possible Heisman Trophy run for Lynch.
He will need to find a new favorite target to pass it to, however. Martel Moore broke the 1,000-yard receiving mark in 2012 and scored 13 touchdowns but has moved on leaving junior Tommylee Lewis as the next man up. Lewis finished second on the team in 2012 with 48 catches for 539 yards and five touchdowns and was the only other player besides Moore to catch more than two touchdown passes. He looks poised to step up as the new No. 1 guy for Lynch in the passing game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Huskies face a lot more questions as they return just five starters in 2013. They’ll be led by safety Jimmie Ward, returning for his senior season after leading the team with 104 tackles in 2012. He also added three interceptions and 11 pass break ups to his stat sheet and made the Thorpe Award watch list this offseason as one of the nation’s top defensive backs.
Junior linebacker Jamaal Bass will need to step up his game as one of just two returning starters in the front seven. He finished third on the team in 2012 with 83 total tackles and added six tackles for loss, including half of a sack, and an interception. He will have to step up his disruptiveness next season and create more negative plays as NIU breaks in a host of new faces in the defensive front seven.
The Huskies will enjoy a relatively soft schedule to help get their BCS dreams rolling next fall. They open the season on the road against the Iowa Hawkeyes, who are still searching for an offensive identity, in a revenge game following their 18-17 loss to Iowa in 2012 (their only regular season loss of the season). They also travel to take on the Purdue Boilermakers who are in the midst of rebuilding under new head coach Darrell Hazell.
When they get into their MAC schedule, they get a very favorable path to the conference championship game. They avoid the top two teams from the MAC East, the Bowling Green Falcons and Ohio Bobcats, and get the MAC West rival Ball State Cardinals at home. Their biggest stumbling block is likely a road test against the Toledo Rockets in conference on November 20.
All in all, the offense appears ready to pick up right where it left off and may need to outscore some people early on as the defense finds its footing. That shouldn’t be a problem as the Huskies have averaged over 38 points per game over the last three seasons and should have a great shot at a fourth-consecutive double-digit win season. If they find a way to run the table and go undefeated, they might even force their way into a second-straight BCS appearance.