Thursday, July 6, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Northern Illinois Huskies

Northern Illinois Huskies
Last season saw a rare dip in the Northern Illinois win total, and the Huskies were stumped with a five win season, the first season in recent memory where the Huskies did not see a bowl game. Everyone wanted Rod Carey's head on a platter last fall, but that, in my opinion, was a rush to judgement, as the Huskies could not buy a healthy QB. With a wealth of health in 2017, can NIU climb back to the perch in the MAC West?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Jordan Huff will be the lead RB in a three headed monster setup for the Huskies, and rushed for 703 yards last fall, while scoring five times as the primary backup. He averaged 6.33 yards per carry, and could be a big breakout candidate for the Huskies this fall. Marcus Jones and Tommy Mister will also get into the action, and could give the Huskies one of the deeper rotations in the nation.
Christian Blake is back at WR, as is Shane Wimann at TE. They should provide reliable targets for whomever comes out ahead in the QB battle that will carry over into fall camp. They combined for over 56 receptions last fall for just over 700 yards and nine scores.
Three starters are back on the line in LT Max Scharping, LG Jordan Steckler, and C Luke Shively.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The Huskies have played five different QBs in the starting role over the last two seasons due to injury. That has got to change this season, and someone must stay healthy between Ryan Graham and Daniel Santacaterina this season. Either could handle the job if they can reduce mistakes and just be game managers, and that lends better to Graham, but someone has to win the job, as this battle will flow into fall camp.
There will be two new starters at WR for the Huskies around Blake. Chad Beebe and DJ Brown have the edge to start as of now, but again, that will not go final until we wrap up fall camp in late August.
The right side of the line needs to be rebuilt, with Shane Evans having first crack at RG, and Ryan Roberts will have a shot at RT.
The PK game is also a bit of a mess, as Christian Hagan only managed to hit 11/18 FG attempts last fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The secondary will be the strength of the defense, as several holes exist in the front seven. Shawun Lurry is back to start at CB, and finished with 11 PBUs last season. Albert Smalls is set to take over the starting CB job opposite Lurry. Mayomi Olootu, Jr. and Jalen Embry will also get some action in there as well. Traquan Smith is back at SS, and Mycial Allen will be back at FS. Brandon Mayes will also see time at both spots, giving the Huskies one of the best Safety units in the league and in the nation.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
DE Josh Corcoran is back this fall after recording seven TFLs last fall, but he is the only returning player with any real production on the line. William Lee is back at NG as well, but his numbers are not flashy. Sutton Smith gets the edge to start at DE, while Ben LeRoy is being given a shot to win the DT spot.
Bobby Jones IV is the lone returning starting LB. He finished with 59 tackles. Kyle Pugh and Jawuan Johnson are getting a shot to win the open jobs, but they lack in total production.
The Punting job is open as well, with senior Josh Orne looking like the leader for the job.
2017 Schedule: 9/1 Boston College, 9/9 Eastern Illinois, 9/16 at Nebraska, 9/30 at San Diego State, 10/7 Kent State, 10/14 at Buffalo, 10/21 at Bowling Green, 10/26 Eastern Michigan, 11/2 at Toledo, 11/9 Ball State, 11/15 Western Michigan, 11/24 at Central Michigan
Final Overview
If the Huskies can get a blessing from the health fairy, they should be able to do well enough to get back to a bowl game this fall. The early schedule is very difficult for them, with early non con games with Boston College, Nebraska, and San Diego State, but they get an easy road in October, before things tighten up again in November. With any luck, NIU can steal a game here or there, and really surprise some people, but seven wins should be the expectation baseline.

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