I challenge anybody to find a football program that has as much success this decade in comparison to all the years before it.
This blog wouldn't exist if it weren't for this past decade. I could only imagine how many fans there would be.
NIU has only been in Division I since 1969. After a trek in the Mid-American Conference from 1973-1986, the Huskies didn't re-join the MAC until 1997. The Huskies had only 7 winning seasons in D-I football before the turn of the century.
Since then they've had 8 winning seasons and 5 postseason appearances. Previously, their only postseason appearance was in the California Bowl in '83 after winning the MAC before there was even a MAC Championship game.
Joe Novak came in to the fold in 1996 and promised to bring a winning team in Dekalb. The former part of the 1990's were not kind to the Huskies as their football program was starting to unravel due to poor leadership and discipline.
Novak took his lumps going 1-10, 0-11, 2-9 and 5-6 his first four years as the Huskie head man. This is where the seeds were planted.
The 2000 recruiting class after the 1999 season was arguably the best in Northern Illinois football history.
LB Nick Duffy, C Todd Ghilani, SS Akil Grant, QB Josh Haldi, CB Rob Lee, OG Ben Lueck, OG Matt McGhghy and RB Michael Turner
It's like the who's who of NIU football players this decade. North Chicago's Michael Turner's only offer was from Northern Illinois. Novak was building something that players wanted to become part of. Back then the facilities were terrible. The coaches had closets for offices and the Yordon Center was a pipe dream.
2000: Led by RB Thomas Hammock and future NFLers WR Justin McCareins and OT Ryan Diem, the Huskies finished 6-5, their first winning record since 1990.
2001: Thomas Hammock led the way again along with WRs Darrell "Thrill" Hill and P.J. Fleck for yet another 6-5 winning season. The first win that year ironically was a 20-17 victory over South Florida in DeKalb.
2002 was the big transition year for the Huskies. The first game of that year was one of the biggest wins in NIU football history when the Huskies upset Wake Forest 42-41 in Dekalb.
Josh Haldi started to take the reigns at QB from Chris Finlen. Hammock developed his heart condition and then Michael Turner took off without missing a beat. After 3 tough non-conference losses (including one to USF), the Huskies managed to go undefeated in-conference before the fiasco in Dekalb against the Toledo Rockets in the season finale. This where Huskie fans started to hate the Rockets more than any other team in the conference.
The Huskies finished with an 8-4 record, the most wins since 1989. Still, no bowl game and no conference championship left the Huskies hungry for more. Out of all these seasons, the 2002 squad reminds me the most of the current Huskie team.
2003 was "The Year". Wins over ranked Maryland and Alabama squads helped the Huskies become undefeated for a while and become relevant on the national landscape. It was truly the epitome that all Huskie teams afterward will be judged by. On offense: Josh Haldi at QB, Michael Turner at RB, P.J. Fleck at WR. On defense, Nick Duffy and Brian "The Beast" Atkinson at LB, Randee Drew at CB. To this day, it's a shame that Duffy was only able to play 6 games that year, as the WWS product was the heart and soul of the defense.
While we were great, the rest of the MAC was even better as we lost two conference games towards the end of the season to Bowling Green and Toledo on the road. No conference championship or a bowl game for a 10-2 team. A pure travesty. That team helped get the ball rolling for mid-major teams getting better chances at getting into bowl games/the BCS.
2004 built off the success that 2003 provided the Huskies. They stayed the course and eventually won the Silicon Valley Classic over Troy and acheived a 9-3 record. Again, no conference championship (damn you Toledo!) but this was the season that unleashed Garrett Wolfe on the world. Josh Haldi finished his career as one of the most successful signal-callers in NIU history. Dan Sheldon was the best all-purpose returner before Tommy Davis came around.
2005 was Garrett Wolfe all the time. Phil Horvath came on at QB and was very respectable tossing it around when he had to at Sam Hurd. The Huskies made it all the way to the MAC Championship for the first time, but fell to Akron in a heartbreaking 30-31 defeat. Despite a 7-5 record, the Toledo Rockets team that we beat got a bowl bid to the GMAC Bowl instead of the Huskies.
2006 was the year the Huskies were heavily favored to win the MAC West with Garrett Wolfe and OT Doug "Freak" Free leading the offensive line. The result? Lack of predictability on offense and lack of a defense. It truly was the Garrett Wolfe show still. We finished with a 7-6 record including the brutal whipping we took against a severely underrated TCU Horned Frogs squad in the Poinsettia Bowl.
2007 brought the only losing record of the decade due to a non-existent senior clas and the most unusual rash of season-ending injuries that I have ever seen in my life. The 2-10 season resulted in Joe Novak retiring because he just felt the time was right.
2008 debuted the first year of Jerry Kill at the helm. Reviews were mixed, but a combination of both the old and new guard led this team to a bowl game with only 6 wins. The Huskies lucked out landing in the Independence Bowl and lost 10-17 to Lousiana Tech in what was pretty much a home game for the Bulldogs. Chandler Harnish began his career as a redshirt freshman and Larry English absolutely dominated people on defense en route to him being picked in the 1st round of the NFL Draft the following spring.
2009...well here we are. Another winning record, another bowl game. Now it is just time to put it all together and give this program a boost into the next decade, starting with 2010.