With nine starters back on offense, the Huskies should be one of the MAC's top scoring teams in 2011.
By: Steven Lassan | 6/4/11, 1:41 PM EDT
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#74 Northern Illinois
MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dave Doeren, | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Canada | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jay Niemann
Northern Illinois returns the majority of last year’s high-octane unit. In 2010, the Huskies averaged a MAC-best 38.0 points and 450.0 yards per game and punctuated the season with a 40–17 blowout win over Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Senior quarterback Chandler Harnish has a wealth of experience after starting 31 games in the previous three seasons. New coach Dave Doeren is relying on the versatility and experience of the dual-threat quarterback to run his no-huddle offense. The offense will feature a variety of different looks, including the shotgun, Pistol and snaps under center.
Harnish, who finished second on the team in rushing last year with 836 yards, must carry a heavier burden until the offense finds a suitable replacement for two-time, 1,000-yard tailback Chad Spann. Newcomer Jamal Womble and senior Jasmin Hopkins get the first crack at filling Spann’s shoes. The good news is that the Huskies return all five starters on the offensive line, headlined by a pair of first-team All-MAC selections in left tackle Trevor Olson and center Scott Wedige.
The Huskies have all the ingredients to equal last year’s offensive success if Harnish can stay healthy. There are plenty of experienced targets, with three wide receivers returning with at least 29 receptions and 525 yards receiving last year.
Former NIU coach Jerry Kill built a solid, opportunistic defense during his three-year tenure. The Huskies ranked among the best units in the country last year, holding opponents to 18.9 points per game and recording 30 sacks while intercepting 16 passes.
The defense in 2010, however, will look vastly different after losing numerous starters to graduation along the defensive line and in the secondary. In addition, NIU will be without linebackers Tyrone Clark (sitting out the season for personal reasons) and Devon Bulter (taking a redshirt after being involved in an off-campus shooting incident in early April), as well as strong safety Tracy Wilson (left school).
There is some promise. The Huskies should be solid on the edges with ends Joe Windsor and Sean Progar, a first-team All-MAC pick in 2010. And two linebackers, Jordan Delegal and Pat Schiller, showed the ability to make plays last year. Safety Tommy Davis and cornerback Rashaan Melvin, both juniors, lead the secondary.
Davis returns after leading the Huskies in kickoff and punt returns in 2010. He averaged 24.0 yards per kickoff return, and scored on an 83-yard touchdown against Toledo. Junior college recruit Josh Gallington has the credentials to continue NIU’s string of quality kickers. The punting job is wide open, with junior Ryan Neir, who has not seen any collegiate action, expected to be the main candidate.
The season hinges on whether Harnish can stay healthy. He had trouble staying on the field in his first two years before playing in 13 of 14 games last year. The Huskies don’t have a backup with Harnish’s experience and ability to run and pass with equal efficiency.
Northern Illinois navigated a tough schedule to win a school-record 11 games in 2010. This year, the Huskies have a more favorable schedule, with four of their first seven and final two games at home. The energy from a new coaching staff and desire for the senior class to play in a fourth straight bowl game should spur the Huskies to another strong season.