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Northern Illinois and preseason hype

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The media has spoken and they like Northern Illinois to win the MAC West this year.  What does that mean?  Probably not a whole lot, but what other times have the Huskies been picked to win their division?

2009 prediction: 5th

Actual finish: 2nd (7-6, 5-3)

2008 prediction: 5th

Actual finish: 4th (6-7, 5-3)

2007 prediction: 5th

Actual finish: 6th (2-10, 1-6)

2006 prediction: 1st

Actual finish: 3rd (7-6, 5-3)

2005 prediction: 2nd

Actual finish: 1st (7-5, 6-2)

2004 prediction: 2nd

Actual finish: 1st (9-3, 7-1)

2003 prediction: 1st

Actual finish: 2nd (10-2, 6-2)

2002 prediction: 3rd

Actual finish: 1st (8-4, 7-1)

2003 as we all know was that year we beat a couple ranked teams, but in-conference the Huskies struggled against talented Bowling Green and Toledo teams.  This was mostly due to injuries and lack of depth for a team that put NIU on the map, but couldn't capture that elusive MAC Championship.  Or even make a bowl game nonetheless.  To this day, even though the Huskies didn't meet all of their goals that season will always be a success.  I'm damn tired of talking about something that happened 7 years ago though.

2006 was just an absolute disaster right from the start.  Garrett Wolfe and Doug Free couldn't do it all for this team.  They struggled right out of the gate against eventual East winners Ohio.  Later on Western Michigan completely shut down our offense and Toledo came out on top in the infamous "Fog Game".  Our defense under Novak was always a bit suspect when they weren't forcing a bunch of turnovers, so this season's downfall could be put on the lack of production on the offensive side of the ball.

When Phil Horvath at QB, Britt Davis and Marcus Perez at WR are your other offensive threats, you know you are going to be in trouble (hindsight 20/20).  Everybody knew our offensive gameplan was going to be getting Wolfe the ball and we had no other options on offense.  Check out this snippet of an ESPN preview from 2006:

NIU has won games over the years with a strong running game and good defense. That figures to be the recipe again this season, but a decent passing game will be needed to keep opponents off Wolfe's back. Nicholson appears to have more flash, and his cannon arm could really take pressure off the run, provided the young receivers can separate from defenders.

This year our defense is going to be light years ahead of what we had in 2006.  On offense, we return pretty much everybody that was involved in the passing game.  But the same questions remain: will our passing game be enough?  Will the WR corps develop enough to take the pressure off what could be an extremely strong running game?  We didn't lose a Sam Hurd or Shatone Powers, but who is going to step it up downfield?  We all know what Landon Cox can do, but what about Nathan Palmer, Willie Clark or Martel Moore?  Does it matter who is going to start at QB?