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Northern Illinois Football: 2022 Huskies Season Preview and Prediction

Rocky Lombardi, Northern Illinois Huskies Football

Rocky Lombardi and the Huskies are ranked No. 76 in Athlon Sports' Top 131 for the 2022 college football season

Northern Illinois entered 2021 with low preseason expectations, but coach Thomas Hammock guided this team to a win over Georgia Tech in the season opener, a 9-5 overall mark and a MAC title. The Huskies won't sneak up on anyone in the MAC this year, but Hammock's squad returns the best all-around collection of talent in the conference. Steady quarterback Rocky Lombardi directs an offense also returning running backs Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown to headline a group that averaged 32.2 points a game last fall. NIU's defense surrendered 33.7 points a contest, but the bulk of this group (11 returning starters) returns for '22.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing Northern Illinois' Offense for 2022

After transferring from Michigan State, Rocky Lombardi galvanized the NIU offense with his leadership, experience and steady play. The senior quarterback has had a dramatic impact on the program, passing for 2,597 yards and 15 touchdowns with just eight interceptions to lead the Huskies to the MAC title.

The Huskies have a wealth of talented quarterbacks, including redshirt freshman Ethan Hampton and Temple transfer Justin Lynch, the younger brother of former NIU star quarterback Jordan Lynch, who led the Huskies to the 2013 Orange Bowl.

Lombardi won't have the luxury of handing the ball off to Jay Ducker. The 2021 MAC Freshman of the Year transferred to Memphis in January. The ground game could get a spark from the sophomore trio of Harrison Waylee, Antario Brown and Mason Blakemore.

Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock expects the offensive line to be one of the strengths of the team due to added depth — up to 10 quality players. Four starters are back, including the entire left side in tackle Marques Cox and guard J.J. Lippe.

Several talented options return at wide receiver, led by Trayvon Rudolph and Cole Tucker. Rudolph, who caught 14 passes for 309 yards and three TDs vs. Kent State, is a game-changer on offense and special teams.