After an incredible season that ended in a second straight MAC title and a trip to the BCS Discover Orange Bowl, expectations are high in DeKalb, Il.. The Huskies lost a good group of seniors to graduation and the NFL, but they bring a strong core back for 2013. Players like Jordan Lynch, Jimmie Ward, Tyler Loos, Ken Bishop and others are key reasons why many think NIU will repeat as MAC Champions in 2013.
Over the last three seasons, the Huskies are 34-8 which is pretty darn impressive. Even with wins being a constant for NIU change has been another constant. They are on coach three in four seasons, four if you count the interim coach for 2010’s Humanitarian Bowl. It will be interesting to see how Rod Carey develops as a head coach and how he handles the pressure and expectations of the 2013 edition of NIU football. Let’s take a closer look at this year’s Huskies.
NIU returns the best player in the MAC, and one of the top players in college football. His name is Jordan Lynch and he dominated MAC play last year. I could go on and on about how he will have a good season, but I will let his 7th place finish in the Heisman vote do the talking and focus on the other Huskies on this side of the ball.
NIU returns all five starting offensive lineman, which is huge having a star QB behind those guys. Not only that, the Huskies probably have the deepest line in the conference, with many back-ups getting lots of reps last year. Tyler Loos looks to be healthy after his broken leg, and when healthy, Loos is the MAC’s top lineman, and by a pretty wide margin. Due to Loos’ injury, Ryan Brown was able to get reps at both tackle spots, and is much improved. Senior, Jared Volk will be the emotional leader of the MAC’s top group.
As for skill players, they are losing guys like Martel Moore and Perez Ashford, but don’t expect a huge drop off in skill or points from this group. NIU brought in a very talented group of freshman wide receivers, catch this name now: Aregeros Turner. You will be hearing it a lot over the next few years, probably even this year. Guys like Tommylee Lewis, are poised for big years. I expect TLL, Da’ron Brown, Juwan Brescacin, and Angelo Sebastiano to lead one of the top WR groups in the MAC. They may not have the notoriety of groups like Toledo, but as the season unfolds, you will see they have the talent.
Running back will be a group that is handled by committee. Committee chairman, Akeem Daniels will pave the way. He’s one of the most versatile backs in the conference. He is probably, the league’s best pass catcher out of the backfield. Guys like Keith Harris and Cam Stingily will provide a change of pace that will be nice for the Huskies.
Gone are guys like Sean Progar and Rashaan Melvin, but NIU still has a very experienced defense. All in all, the Huskies lost seven starters from last year’s team. However, they keep big starters in Jimmie Ward, Ken Bishop, and Jamaal Bass. Outside of DeKalb, people are curious how they will replace all those who left. Little do they know, players such as Dechane Durante and Jhony Faustin who had injuries last year, were starters on the 2011 Huskies. Sean Evans, Marlon Moore, Joe Windsor, George Rainey, Boomer Mays, Michael Santacatterina and Anthony Wells have also gotten starts and lots of reps.
I have little doubt, this group becomes one the top swarm units in the MAC this year. Expect another year with a lot of sacks from the defensive line, Rainey and Windsor are pass rush specialists. Ken Bishop, Donovan Gordon, and Anthony Wells round out a group of DT’s that should stuff the run each Saturday. At linebacker, it looks like Bass will lead the crew of Mays and Rasheen ‘Rock’ Lemon as starters, with a nickel guy like Santacatterina to help out.
The defensive backfield is the premier group in the MAC. Jimmie Ward is the best secondary player in the MAC, expect another 100 tackle season from him. I’m sure many don’t know Dechane Durante, but he has TONS of talent, this interception backs up that claim. NIU will handle corner with the trio of Faustin, Moore, and Evans, they should shut a lot of WRs down.
On Special Teams
I will be the first to admit, I haven’t been the biggest Matt Sims fan, and I’m probably his biggest detractor. However, he has proved me wrong on numerous occasions, and I am okay with that. He’s one of the best kickers in the MAC and has journeyed the tough task of Huskie Stadium weather. Tyler Wedel has had strong performances as a kickoff specialist and now takes over as punter. In my opinion, he can’t be worse than Ryan Neir.
The Huskies are also very strong at return man. Tommylee Lewis is one of the top kickoff returners in the MAC, memories of Toledo his freshman year, make me smile every time. I expect him and Angelo Sebastiano/Aregeros Turner to be the two deep guys. Sebastiano will handle punts and will do a serviceable job. According to reports, Chad Beebe, son of former NFL player Don Beebe, has done a good job returning punts, if he doesn’t redshirt, he could return punts. Special teams should be another strong point for NIU.
This is the best team in the MAC entering the 2013 season. However, playing like the best team in the MAC when everyone wants to beat them will be an arduous task. I expect this team to have another double digit win season, and I don’t expect a hangover from the BCS. Rod Carey has the best squad in the conference; let’s see what he does with it.