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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#44 Northern Illinois
MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Rod Carey, 0-1 (First Year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob Cole | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jay Niemann
Northern Illinois opened the 2012 campaign with question marks at quarterback, offensive line and running back. Jordan Lynch had thrown for under 200 career yards and had to deal with five new offensive line starters and no proven running back.
All Lynch did was set a new FBS single-season rushing record for a quarterback with 1,815 yards, pass for 3,138 yards with 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and compile a whopping 4,953 total yards en route to finishing seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Lynch returns for his senior season with motivation to prove that his 2012 numbers weren’t a fluke and to silence his critics after a frustrating Orange Bowl performance against Florida State. Lynch worked on his footwork, not getting too amped up for big games and expanding his knowledge of the playbook.
The offensive line was the most overlooked aspect of NIU’s success last year. The entire line returns, with left tackle Tyler Loos expected to be healthy for the opener at Iowa after missing the last three games with a broken tibia.
Besides Lynch, the Huskies don’t have an explosive runner on the roster. Senior tailback Akeem Daniels showed promise with a strong showing late last season. Lynch must identify another set of wide receivers after losing his best weapons — dynamic Martel Moore and dependable Perez Ashford. Tommylee Lewis and Da’Ron Brown both have potential to emerge into go-to receivers.
The heart of a defense that got lost in the shuffle last season behind the highlight-reel offense is mostly gone. The senior-laden group did the dirty work and allowed a scant 19.9 points per game. Eight starters must be replaced, with three of the top four sack leaders departed.
The front seven is filled with potential but is young and has very little game experience. Defensive end George Rainey and tackle Ken Bishop are expected to pick up the production and leadership.
Junior Jamaal Bass will get an opportunity to fulfill his vast potential at linebacker with the loss of Tyrone Clark and Victor Jacques. Jimmie Ward, a first-team All-MAC safety in 2012, anchors what should be a solid secondary. Cornerbacks Sean Evans and Marlon Moore both showed promise last year.
Senior Mathew Sims is a clutch kicker who might get an opportunity to showcase his leg more this season. The punting job is wide open, but there are several capable candidates. Lewis is an electric kick returner capable of changing the momentum of a game.
New coach Rod Carey inherits a program with a fan base thirsting to follow in the footsteps of BCS crashers Boise State and TCU. Expectations have reached unreal levels at Northern Illinois after three straight seasons with at least 11 wins, five consecutive bowl appearances — including last year’s Orange Bowl — and two MAC championships in a row. The 2012 season was a perfect combination of a favorable schedule, weakened conference and some key late developments — most beyond NIU’s control — that allowed the Huskies to elbow their way into a BCS bowl.
The offense faces a new set of questions in 2013. Opponents won’t be caught off guard after spending the offseason game-planning to stop Lynch. The success of the season might hinge on NIU finding playmakers to take pressure off of their record-setting quarterback. There’s also the question about Carey’s ability to handle the transition from assistant coach to CEO at what is now a high-pressured job.
The pieces are in place for a third straight MAC title, but it won’t be as easy as many NIU fans envision.
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