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Northern Illinois - Army Preview: The Fog of War

There has been a lot of discussion about how to fix college athletics. When Division I split into the haves and have-nots, the Ivy League, perhaps the last bastion of goodness in college sports -- at least until Tommy Amaker decided to ruin Harvard -- took its ball and went to play elsewhere.

That despite having some of the oldest and most successful teams in the way back history of the sport. They didn't want the taint of everything that sours the athletic experience on them.

Sure, they will send their college basketball champion to the NCAA tournament. But there will not be a conference tournament -- no need to grab that money. And there will not be postseason football. No bowl games, no playoffs. Once the season is over, its over.

Now the Ivy League is somewhat lucky. The member schools aren't trying to prop up a state school with lack of funding using a sports program with too much money in its coffers. They are living off of endowments and donations from alumni that could probably pay the salaries for all of the coaches in the SEC several times over, and still pay for the new chemistry lab.

But while the Ivy League turned and ran, two schools stayed that might need to be the model for fixing what is wrong with the college sports world today -- Army and Navy.

This is not advocating that we send everyone into the military once they are done with school (although...). But there are definitely differences between how the football players at Army and Navy conduct themselves and how the players act at almost every other institution in the country.

And while the players for the military academies aren't going to be making the big dollars on Sunday, they still play the game just as hard, and just as tough on Saturday.

Northern Illinois will get to see that Saturday when Army comes to town. The Huskies will get to unveil their new no-huddle offense for the first time in real game action. There is probably no better guinea pig for it than Army. Who else is going to be as conditioned at this point in the season, to come out and attempt to stop 90 plays against them?

Army can.

Who else is used to performing when energy levels are low, but it must be done?

Army can.

Sense a theme? There is a reason their commercials talk about Army Strong. They have a toughness that apparently the Persastrong campaign will lack.

Army coach Rich Ellerson addressed how the Black Knights will combat the Huskies' attempts to snap the ball every 15 to 20 seconds.

"Being comfortable with the chaos is one of those catch phrases that we've portrayed," Ellerson said. "That's a General Patreaus quote, so it belongs to us."

Yes, that General Patreaus. The four-star general who only led all the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now runs the CIA.

When he talks, you bet the kids on the sidelines will be listening.

But there is little that Patreaus will be able to do to help Army against Northern Illinois. The Black Knights won't be able to win the hearts and minds of the Huskies. It just isn't happening.

How exactly will this game go? Here are five things to watch:

1. How does Northern's offense work at high speed against a defense that can hit the quarterback?

The Northern Illinois offensive line gave up just 13 sacks last season, and the number should be about the same this year. In the scrimmages though, the line gave up none.

Once Chandler Harnish starts taking licks, the Huskies will quickly find out how fast they can move with a quarterback who has a rattled brain.

I wouldn't expect too many hits in this first game. Northern does have the best offensive line in the MAC, and they should overpower the Army defense. But a couple of smacks on Harnish might be in the works.

2. How does the Northern Illinois defense look?

Nothing like jumping right into the fire on defense. As if just dealing with a new squad on defense wasn't hard enough, the Huskies have to go and play against Army's triple option. If the schedulers had been kind, Northern would have next gone to Georgia Tech so at least this would be a warmup for something.

But this game will be an anomaly.

Even the scout team has had trouble simulating the triple option attack in practice. But Dave Doeren has had a month to practice against even a makeshift version of this Army team, and since defense is his specialty, he should have the team ready.

That doesn't mean this will be a total shutdown by the Huskies, but imagine if they only had practiced for a week to try and stop it.

3. Will Army hold up against the no-huddle offense?

As we mentioned, there is no better conditioned team on the field than Army. Can they withstand the pressure of 90 plays?

Can you run 10 miles with a 50 pound pack on your back? Nuff said.

4. Can Northern Illinois withstand 90 plays on defense?

This is the more pertinent question. It isn't just the scheme that makes Army tough to handle, but the pace. And Northern Illinois is not going to be in the shape that Army is, despite practicing in the brutal heat that has overtaken Illinois.

Will they get tired? Yes.

Will they have the depth to battle the lack of energy? Ehhh....

The best hope for Northern is to make the pursuit relentless with Sean Progar and Joe Windsor leading the way. If the Huskies can keep the ball in the backfield, and cut off the ends, they will buy a lot more time between plays to stay fresh.

5. The line is 11 points. Does Northern Illinois cover?

This is the first real test for the Northern Illinois defense, and while they will likely get a passing grade, it won't be an A+ performance. Army is also sporting a new unit and therefore, Harnish will have a good chance of having Northern scoring quick and often.

This is looking like a closer game than 11 points, just because of the new defense and the difficulties of stopping the triple option. So I am going with Army and the points.