2012 Record: 12-2 (8-0, 1st in MAC West)
Head Coach: Rod Carey (first time head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2013 Orange Bowl: lost to Florida State 31-10
Stadium: Huskie Stadium, DeKalb, Ill. (capacity: 24,000)
Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking: 36th out of 124 teams
Returning Starters : 9 offense, 4 defense, 1 special teams
Key Players: QB Jordan Lynch, RB Akeem Daniels, WRs Da’Ron Brown and Tommylee Lewis, OL Aidan Conlan, Tyler Loos, Andrew Ness and Jared Volk, DLs Ken Bishop and Joe Windsor, LBs Jamaal Bass and Boomer Mays, DBs Marlon Moore and Jimmie Ward, K Matthew Sims
CFBZ: Coming off a 12-2 season — including a perfect (8-0) MAC record, a second consecutive conference title, a Top 25 ranking and a BCS bowl appearance — the biggest question is: What do you do for an encore? With a new, but familiar, head coach, can the Huskies deliver on the high expectations of a fourth straight double-digit-win season?
Breese: What does one do for an encore? Improve upon last year’s success seems to be the main focus this off-season. With the bulk of the offense returning and having coaching consistency with [former offensive coordinator] Rod Carey being promoted to head coach, this goal is definitely a possibility. And while the 2013 NIU team has to face some issues at some positions, a 10-plus win season is more than likely a scenario. Can the Huskies deliver that promise and potential? I believe they can. The two road games at Iowa and at Purdue are going to be tough, but are they winnable games? Sure they are. In conference, the biggest threat is Toledo as usual on the road. They’ll at least win one of those games and hopefully two or more.
CFBZ: Quarterback Jordan Lynch became the first player in FBS history to surpass 3,000 yards passing and 1,500 yards rushing. He ended the season with 4,953 total yards (3,138 passing/1,815 rushing) and 44 touchdowns (25 passing/19 rushing) and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Has he reached his ceiling?
Breese: There’s two schools of thought regarding Jordan Lynch either believing that there’s no way possible to match last year’s numbers or that he is going to surpass them in 2013 and be a serious Heisman candidate. My thoughts vary with this situation. On one hand I believe that the running back production is going to be up to save Jordan Lynch’s legs at some point, but Lynch will still be the focal point of the offense. He has the possibility of being used as a decoy now as teams will be playing off of him in future games.
Maybe if he breaks the 2,000 yard mark rushing he’ll make the trip to New York. The main thing this season and for him to get attention is to win games. If Jordan Lynch’s team is undefeated then he’ll be a serious Heisman contender. He’ll drop off a little bit of production on the ground, he might pass more but the biggest thing is that NIU wins games.
CFBZ: NIU recorded several come-from-behind and close-score victories last year. Only four defensive starters return for the Huskies, with the front seven particularly hard hit. Who are some of the new faces on that side of the ball and how will the defensive unit’s youth or inexperience potentially factor into the team’s performance and season’s outcome?
Breese: The front line took the biggest losses this off-season, however the defensive line of NIU is all about depth and rotation of players. DE Joe Windsor was an awesome reserve last season with 10.5 tackles for loss with 7 sacks. He’ll step in fine as a starter. DE George Rainey had 6.5 TFL. DT Anthony Wells had 27 tackles and 8.5 TFL. These guys played in pretty much every game and are used to going out there. The major question is how much depth NIU will have as the season goes along. This is where Big 10 teams can have an advantage.
At linebacker, I’m most excited for Michael Santacaterina who can play any position on the field and is just excellent at fundamentals.
CFBZ: The NIU fan base has become almost a cult following and the program has rocketed into national prominence with its on-field success. What is a game-day experience like in DeKalb and how tough is it for visiting teams at Huskie Stadium?
Breese: The hardest part of playing in DeKalb is the ridiculous weather. The stadium’s pretty open and there’s nothing but cornfields around, so anything can happen. Rain, severe wind, fog, snow. I’ve seen it all.
The game-day experience is pretty intense and the crowds support the team because they put the effort out there on the field. I have been to quite a few tailgates in my day and NIU’s is one of the best. We have our diehards from the early 2000s when the Huskies started getting very good and a lot of fans before that who supported the team when it was terrible.
The fans expect a lot from this team when you have something like the 2003 season happen going 10-2 and almost becoming the first BCS busters. Hopefully the fans will come out in droves to support this team and the next year to watch a solid product out there on the field.
Pete's Bottom Line:
The Huskies are for real: a very talented team in a conference where most teams have yet to catch up with them. NIU appears likely to dominate the MAC again this year despite losing head coach Dave Doeren, who moved to NC State. New head coach Rod Carey coached the team’s offensive line under Doeren and, last year, doubled as offensive coordinator. There should be a smooth transition and continuity in scheme, suggesting limited drop off in the offensive performance of 2012.
Jordan Lynch’s breakout season in 2012 means added pressure and scrutiny on him personally. The early-season non-conference opponents will know him better too. He’s a talented quarterback, but will face some new challenges in 2013.
The defense took a hit with the loss of some personnel but it seems more of a reload rather than rebuild proposition for the Huskies on that side of the ball.
As much as this team is the favorite to three-peat as conference champions, there’s probably an unexpected loss or breakdown lurking somewhere in this season’s schedule. Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell coached Kent State to an 8-0 MAC (East) record last season. His Golden Flashes fell to the Huskies 44-37 (2OT) in the conference championship. He should have an advantage when the Boilermakers host NIU in late September. The Huskies also have to travel to Moscow, Idaho, and Foxboro, Mass. While their opponents at those destinations are not equal to them in talent, multiple long road trips can take a toll on a team. All this, combined with away games at Toledo and Kent State, the two toughest conference matchups, suggest a slight stumble.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews: