Northern Illinois won the MAC last year… somehow. The Huskies were quite poor on offense and seven of their eight wins came by one possession. Now, HC Rod Carey is off to Temple after winning two MAC titles.
NIU alum Thomas Hammock takes over the job and expectations are sky high. The Huskies have won their division seven of the last nine years and have won fewer than eight games just once in that span, but Hammock doesn’t inherit a lot as almost all the key pieces on the great defense are gone and while most of the guys are back, the offense wasn’t that good to begin with.
NIU put up just 4.5 YPP last season and had been slipping for a while since Carey took over outside of a brief blip in 2016. Luckily, they should be more experienced this year and return veteran QB Marcus Childers, who threw four touchdowns in the MAC title game last year. Cal transfer Ross Bowers might better fit Hammock’s style, so it’ll be interesting to see if a competition develops there.
The Huskies bring in a really great hire to take over the offense in former South Dakota State OC Eric Eidsness, who helped produce names like Zach Zanner, Dallas Goedert, and Taryn Christion while with the Jackrabbits.
The line is a big question mark because of the departure of one of the best tackles in the country, Max Scharping, but four guys with serious playing time return.
The top four rushers are all back in a group led by Tre Harbison (1,034 yards, five touchdowns, 5.0 YPA) and the quicker Marcus Jones (542, four, 5.5).
The #1 and #2 pass catchers are gone but Spencer Tears returns and should step into a bigger role after bringing in 422 yards last year. JUCO transfer Tyrice Richie could start in the slot and a pair of sophomores in Dennis Robinson and Cole Tucker could get some playing time for the future.
The offense should improve, the question of how much will come to if Childers can be more consistent as he took too many sacks, threw too many picks, and couldn’t complete enough passes last year to carry this offense, that is, if he even keeps the job.
The defense was awesome last year, maybe the best in the G5, the problem is that a lot of the key pieces are gone, most notably Sutton Smith who was maybe the best defensive player on any G5 team (15 sacks!). Josh Corcoran (10 sacks) is also gone along with corners Jalen Embry and Tifonte Hunt.
The good news for NIU is they do get some pieces back, including their top three tackles, four senior safeties, and a trio of senior linebackers that combined for over 200 tackles and 17 TFL in 2018.
The defense is going to take a step back, losing four key pieces on the ends and at the corners, but the rest of the starters are back and there is a ton of talent for new DC Derrick Jackson (formerly Purdue’s CB coach) to work with.
This team certainly has some pieces and should compete in the MAC title race, but Sutton Smith going pro is a big blow. The defense is going to take a step back but I think the offense will take a step forward, maybe even more than some expect because I like the OC hire so much.
The schedule isn’t easy, with three road games against P5 team in the non-conference and the top four teams in the conference (not including themselves obviously) all on the schedule, three of which, including the projected division favorites, on the road.
I like this team a lot even if my computer says I should be a little more cautious due to the holes on defense, the quarterback play, the coaching change, and the schedule. NIU has been one of the few G5 teams consistently good since the turn of the century, winning seven of the last nine MAC West titles and four of the nine before that. The Huskies have been excellent for a while, so I have faith in the program to right the ship and make a bowl game, even my CPU says it’s far from a lock (6.5 average projected wins).
|AT MIAMI (OH)
|at Central Michigan
Average Projected Record: 6.5 wins, 5.5 losses (4.9 wins, 3.1 losses)