html Scores & Statistics - The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento, California
Football Bowl Subdivision
           ***** NCAA Football Preview - Northern Illinois Huskies *****
 By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: It didn't have the storybook ending Huskies fans were
 hoping for, but the 2012 season was still the most successful performance by
 any Northern Illinois team in school history.
 Coach Dave Doeren did an excellent job of keeping his players focused as they
 pursued their second consecutive MAC Championship. NIU came up just short in
 its season opener versus Iowa and lost 18-17. The loss to the Hawkeyes was the
 only one the Huskies experienced during the regular season. They won their
 next 11 games by an average of 25.1 points per game and their thrilling, 44-37
 victory over Kent State in the MAC Championship game marked their 17th
 straight win over league opponents.
 In his first year as the starting quarterback, Jordan Lynch took the nation by
 storm. The top dual-threat QB in the country, Lynch was named a Second-Team
 All-American. Many thought the MAC Player of the Year should have been a
 finalist to win the Heisman Trophy, but he was not invited to the award
 After he collected his second MAC Championship, Doeren left the program to
 take over the head coaching job at NC State. Doeren's departure came before
 NIU took on Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Offensive coordinator Rod Carey
 led the team into its first-ever BCS Bowl game, but the Seminoles overpowered
 the Huskies en route to a 31-10 decision.
 Carey's loss to FSU was not enough to discourage NIU from offering him the
 head coaching job on a full-time basis. With no head coaching experience
 besides the Orange Bowl loss, the 42-year old made it clear he isn't plotting
 huge changes.
 "When you have a program like this, it's not about what you can change; it's
 about what you can keep. We've got great players and we want to keep this ball
 OFFENSE: The Lynch-led offense was stifled in the season opener and bowl game,
 but it dominated in all 12 of the team's wins. NIU ranked 20th among 120 FBS
 programs in total offense with 469.6 yards per game and 13th in scoring
 offense at 38.6 ppg.
 No one would have batted an eyelash if Lynch was a Heisman Trophy Award
 finalist considering his jaw dropping statistics. He completed 62.9 percent of
 his passes for 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns against just six interceptions.
 The 6-foot junior also placed seventh in the nation in rushing (1,815 yards),
 averaging 6.5 yards per carry with another 19 touchdowns. Lynch finished the
 season with 4,953 yards of total offense. Of returning players, only Johnny
 Manziel amassed more yards than Lynch in 2012.
 Lynch may not find passing as easy without the graduated Martel Moore (1,083
 yards, 13 TDs). Junior wideout Tommylee Lewis is the leading receiver among
 returners in receptions (48), yards (539) and touchdowns (five), but his 5-
 foot-7, 155-pound frame will prevent him from ever being a possession pass
 catcher. Junior tight end Luke Eakes brings big play potential to the table
 and should see more passes come his way during red zone trips. Da'Ron Brown
 will also have an expanded role.
 Lynch's duel threat ability makes him the most dangerous weapon in the rushing
 game. Senior halfback Akeem Daniels is an asset out of the backfield. He
 showed he can be an every down back by surpassing the 100-yard mark in the
 regular season finale and MAC Championship. He scored four of his nine rushing
 TDs against Kent State in Detroit.
 Lynch and Daniels are lucky to have the entire starting offensive line back
 for their senior campaigns. Junior tackle Tyler Loos (6-5, 282) is a key
 player on the blocking unit that gave up just 1.2 sacks per contest.
 DEFENSE:  NIU was one of the top teams in the conference on the defensive side
 of the ball as well. The Huskies ranked second in the MAC in scoring defense
 and third in total defense with allowed averages of 19.8 points and 369.3
 yards of total offense per contest.
 The defensive unit has some rebuilding to do as seven starting spots became
 available because of graduation. Senior defensive tackle Ken Bishop (6-1, 308)
 is the only starter back on the front four. Senior end Joe Windsor wasn't
 listed as a starter last year, but he still finished third on the squad in
 sacks with seven and also tied for second in tackles for loss with 10.5.
 The leader of the defense is going to be All-MAC safety Jimmy Ward, who paced
 the team with 104 total stops in 2012. He also deflected 11 passes and
 recorded a team-high total of three interceptions. Sophomore cornerback Marlon
 Moore joins Ward in the secondary after a very promising rookie year.
 Without Tyrone Clark in the lineup to anchor the defense, junior linebacker
 Jamaal Bass is poised for an all-conference caliber season. Bass was named to
 the MAC All-Freshman Team in 2011 after tallying 77 total stops and four
 interceptions. Last season, he increased his total number of tackles to 86,
 set a career-high with 10 tackles for loss and forced a fumble.
 SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Matthew Sims has connected on 74.4 percent of his 47
 field goal tries over the past two seasons while also converting all but three
 of his 134 extra point tries. He frequently comes up in the clutch and tied
 for 29th in the nation in 2012 with 78.9 percent accuracy on field goal tries.
 Junior Tyler Wedel was once the kickoff specialist for NIU. His above
 average leg power should translate over nicely to the punting game.
 Lewis's lack of size may hurt him as a wideout, but it makes him more elusive
 as a returner. He racked up 589 yards and a touchdown on 24 kick returns in
 OUTLOOK: NIU does not have as well-balanced a team as it did a season ago. It
 still is one of the premier non-BCS conference programs in college football
 and was selected by the media to win the 2013 MAC Championship.
 "It's flattering," said NIU head coach Rod Carey. "It's not something you pay
 attention to, but I know why they do it. It goes along with everything else.
 Expectations are high, but no one has higher expectations for us than us."
 Every game on the schedule is winnable for Lynch and company. The Huskies will
 hit the road to take on Iowa and Idaho in their first two games of the season.
 Then they host Eastern Illinois at NIU Stadium before another two-game road
 swing that features a non-conference duel at Purdue and a MAC Championship
 rematch at Kent State. NIU's remaining seven games are against league rivals
 it defeated in 2012. The toughest challenges come after a bye in November when
 NIU hosts Ball State and plays at Toledo in back-to-back weeks.
 Carey shouldn't be held to the standard of the 2012 squad, especially since
 the Huskies have to play seven of their 12 games on the road. The bull's-eye
 on NIU's back gets bigger and bigger with each successful step it takes. It's
 only a matter of time before a league rival ends its streak. Still, the
 Huskies are too good of a team not to contend for another conference title.
 08/19 11:45:32 ET