This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
At first it was kind of hard for me to decide on a favorite all-time team, but eventually it became a no-brainer. 2003 is the season that everybody hasn't stopped talking about to this day. Every year it seems like we talk about "When is this team going to achieve the success that it did during 2003?"
After a breakthrough 8-4 season in 2004, this was the first Northern Illinois squad to be picked to win the MAC West for the first time ever. A win over the #15 ranked Maryland to start the season. A win at Alabama just two weeks later. The Huskies were stunning everybody, which led them to national attention for the first time ever. Everybody remembers the SI article. The Huskies were set out to be the original BCS busters, placing #10 in the original rankings before their upsetting loss at Bowling Green.
Michael Turner, the current Atlanta Falcon was the center of the offense, rushing for 1,648 yds and 17 TDs but it didn't end there. Josh Haldi was an extremely successful game manager throwing for 2,544 yds, 25 TDs and 9 INTs. P.J. Fleck had a monster year and became one of the biggest fan-favorites for the Huskies pulling in 77 catches for 1,028 yds and 6 TDs. Fleck also doubled as a punt returner with the electrifying Dan Sheldon.
CB Randee Drew led an opportunistic defense with 6 INTs and 15 pass deflections while pulling double duty returning kickoffs. Brian "The Beast" Atkinson led the aggressive Huskies at linebacker with 108 tackles, 6 sacks and 12 QB presures. Finally injury-plagued players LB Nick Duffy and SS Akil Grant also had extremely productive seasons when they were on the field.
This was a team built on hard work and scrappiness. The Huskies went against some of the best competition in the country and never backed down. Huskie Stadium that season was a mad house. Attendance numbers were up and crowds and crowds of new fans were along for the ride.
It still boggles my mind today that the Huskies could be 10-2 and not make a bowl game. Nevertheless, it was a season to remember, and set up the football team and university for the future. Expectations have always been extremely high, because we had been to the top and had seen what it feels like. A blessing and a curse, the fleeting MAC Championship remains the logical next step in the progression of the program.
Runner up teams: 2002, 2004, 2005.
Who is your favorite NIU team of All-Time?