This is the sixth in a week-long series sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
It's time to start wrapping up this campaign, but since it was so much fun all the posts leading up to today are linked below. Hope you enjoyed them. Reminder: If you have participated and want to win a copy of NCAA 2011, make sure to e-mail me (email@example.com) your entry by today (drawing will be tonight).
- Mon: How I Became an NIU Huskies Fan
- Tue: My All-time Favorite NIU Team
- Wed: Tailgating Traditions
- Thu: My All-Time Favorite NIU Players
- Fri: Most Memorable NIU Football Moments
Expectations for the 2010 Northern Illinois Season
It was nice reviewing the past, but the time for the Huskies is now. It's been three years since the 2007 season in which the Huskies had their worst season in recent memory, suffering an injury-plagued 2-10 season. We saw a change in regime over to Coach Jerry Kill and the turnaround from that season has been remarkable. The Huskies have been to two straight bowl games the last two years with incomplete teams. Incomplete in the sense of the word that Coach Kill was still finding players to fit his system. In year three of Kill's reign, it seems as though he finally has the pieces in place that he needs to have a successful season.
The strength of the team will be on defense, specifically the deep defensive line. 5 players are returning that have at least 7 games of starting experience, headlined by All-MAC standout Jake Coffman. A lot of first year guys were thrown onto the field, but that should pay off tremendously when it comes to players like Devon Butler who will move into the starting MLB spot with virtually no dropoff. Chris Smith and Patrick George will be able to excel at their positions in just their second year of starting any games. Tracy Wilson will be a force at SS and there is great depth everywhere else on that side of the ball. The key to getting to that next level of greatness will be causing more turnovers.
On offense, NIU's staple has always been running the ball and this year will be no different. Chad Spann looks to be one of the top returning runners in the league. Behind him is a cavalry of players that include transfers Cameron Bell and Jasmin Hopkins as well as a healthy incumbent Ricky Crider. The offensive line isn't very deep, but if they manage to stay healthy and improve all season long, then there shouldn't be a dropoff from last year.
The biggest question is going to be making plays through the air. Will Chandler Harnish ever be healthy again? Will JC transfer Casey Weston have to step in? Will the receiving corps develop some playmakers that can stretch the field? Where does DeMarcus Grady stand in all of this? Teams are going to stack the box and finding answers to these questions early is absolutely vital.
I like the Huskies this year and they play a fairly easy schedule (Steele ranks it 119th). The MAC, especially the MAC West is going to have a down year with all the talent that graduated (LeFevour, Hiller, etc). I like the Huskies to take 2 out of 3 against the road games against Iowa State, Illinois and Minnesota. Then in-conference the Huskies toughest games are against Temple at home and against Western Michigan on the road. I say the Huskies go 1-1 in those games. All the other games are winnable.
My official prediction at this point in time is for the Huskies to go 10-2 with a berth in the MAC Championship game. I really can't see how they can't win at least 9 games this year. When 9 wins is a worst-case scenario you know you're going to be in for a fun ride.