It can’t be too early to talk a little college football can it? But why not. We’ve still got to see if the NBA Finals or Stanley Cup Finals can get interesting—if either is still alive come Monday morning, the answer is yes. Baseball is still in the sorting-out stages, where if you’re sniffing .500, you’re in wild-card contention. Last week, I stepped out and bought my first college football annual. And what I want to focus on is the state of Northern Illinois football.
Northern Illinois has become a favorite of mine over the last few years. I can’t claim “real fan” status because I wasn’t rooting for them during the down years. But I live just a couple hours north of DeKalb, made it down for their final home game a year ago (in freezing weather) and have come to thoroughly enjoy following the Mid-American Conference in general, and NIU in particular.
The Huskies have become synonymous with great quarterback play in recent years. Chandler Harnish was the one who first caught my attention and started to get me smitten with this team. Harnish graduated following the 2011 season.
Little did I know things would get better, as Jordan Lynch replaced him and led the program to greater heights—an Orange Bowl bid in 2012 and to the cusp of another major bowl spot a year ago before losing the MAC title game.
Northern Illinois football enters a transition year this season. Quarterback is up for grabs, and the offense will likely be built around a pair of experienced and talented runners. Akeem Daniels was the top rusher on the Orange Bowl team, but missed last year with a foot injury. Cameron Stingily stepped in and did the job in his stead.
Both Daniels and Stingily are primed to roll this year and the offensive line has four starters back. The receiving corps has three experienced pass-catchers back in Da’Ron Brown, TommyLee Lewis and Juwan Brescacin. Whomever plays quarterback, whether it’s Matt McIntosh, Drew Hare or incoming transfer Anthony Maddie, will have a good supporting cast to work with.
The Huskies are going to score points, and they are going to defend the pass well. The back seven has talent returning, from Marlon Moore (a converted corner going to strong safety) to free safety Dechane Durante to playmaking linebackers Jamaal Bass and Boomer Mays.
Where I’m concerned is up front. The defensive line is going to be completely rebuilt, and one of the toughest foes in the MAC West is Ball State, with its brilliant running back in Jahwan Edwards. NIU can have a good season with their offense and defensive back seven. They will not have a championship season unless the defensive front comes through.
Head coach Rod Carey has until November before the biggest games are up. The Huskies travel to Ball State on November 5. Then a week later, Toledo comes to DeKalb. The winner of the MAC West likely comes out of these three teams.
September won’t be without challenges—Northern Illinois plays road games against Northwestern, UNLV and Arkansas and could easily lose all three. But that doesn’t have to affect their hopes of a MAC crown and no one in DeKalb is thinking about another major bowl run anyway.
I’m still a Wisconsin Badgers fan, first and foremost. But football at the MAC, and at Northern Illinois is played the way it’s supposed to, at least in terms of keeping the game in a sane perspective. You can still walk up to a game at NIU, see the student housing right across the street and buy a ticket on game day. It feels like a college football game, not one that’s a glorified NFL minor league game, as so many power conferences seem determined to turn themselves into.
Northern Illinois football promises another good year, and if it comes through, it means it could be time for another trek to DeKalb come November. Only I hope it will be a little warmer this time.