The Northern Illinois Huskies face a tough schedule in 2017 season...and they’ll have to do it without 11 starters from last year; including a pair of former starting quarterbacks, their leading rusher, their top two receivers, and, on defense, their two leading tacklers.
NIU also faces another quarterback battle, this time between junior Ryan Graham and sophomore Daniel Santacaterina.
But let’s not worry just yet because there is still a lot of talent on the roster. Jordan Huff, Chad Beebe, Christian Blake, Shawun Lurry, Mycial Allen, and Shane Wimann all return for their senior year. And there are some strong newcomers, like redshirt-freshman running back Tre Harbison (who was ranked the 20th best running back by 247Sports and transferred from Virginia last year) and true freshmen Rodney Hall (QB) and Issac Hawn (OT).
So, even though we don’t have a clear cut QB yet and we’re still a full five months from opening night...I’m going to make my way too early predictions for each game this season.
Week 1: Fri., Sept. 1st - Boston College Eagles
The Huskies and Eagles fought back in 2015 with BC squeaking out a 17-14 win. There wasn’t much offense in that game and I don’t think there will be in this one either.
This is a toss up game that could go either way. BC has been towards the bottom of the ACC for a little while now but they did win their final three games, including their bowl game, to finish 7-6 last season. The Eagles aren’t known for their offensive power but they have a great defense that can/will give the Huskie quarterbacks and halfbacks some problems.
I see this being a close game, like the last one, with BC claiming another victory.
Prediction: Huskies lose 24-14 (0-1).
Week 2: Sat., Sept. 9th - Eastern Illinois Panthers
Eastern Illinois is an FCS school that gave NIU some problems back in 2013 but since then they have fallen some. Last year they went 6-5 and came from behind to beat fellow MAC school Miami.
And, while this might be closer than it should be, the Huskies have the talent to outrun the Panthers over the course of 60 minutes. It might start off a little rocky but, whoever our quarterback is, should settle into a rhythm by the second half and NIU should pull away.
Prediction: NIU wins 38-27 (1-1).
Week 3: Sat., Sept. 16th - @ Nebraska Cornhuskers
In what is sure to be the toughest test for the Huskies this year, NIU will head to Lincoln to take on the Huskers for their third game.
Nebraska has been in contention for the B1G title two of the last three years and has loads of talent returning this year. I would love to say that NIU can pull the upset...but it might take a miracle.
The Huskers take on the Oregon Ducks the week before this game...maybe Oregon can run Nebraska around for us so we play a really tired team.
Prediction: NIU loses 42-21 (1-2).
Week 4: OFF
Week 5: Saturday, September 30th - @ San Diego State Aztecs
After a bye week, NIU flies out west to take on the Aztecs who have won 11 games in consecutive seasons, including a 42-28 win against NIU last year. Even though they lost, in the second half NIU showed that they can hang with SDSU.
And without Donnel Pumphrey, the Aztecs will look a little different. This year, without the 2000 yard rusher they had last year, NIU should be able to keep it even closer... and maybe even win.
But that could just be wishful thinking.
Prediction: NIU loses a close one 38-35 (1-3).
Week 6: Sat., Oct. 7th - Kent State Golden Flashes
The Huskies open up MAC play against Kent State in early October.
Kent State has been a perennial MAC bottom-feeder (sorry Flashes...but it’s true). I don’t see any reason why the Huskies shouldn’t come away with the win.
They’re at home, they’re stronger, they’re faster...NIU should be 1-0 in MAC play early on.
Prediction: NIU wins 35-24 (2-3, 1-0)
Week 7: Sat., Oct. 14th - @ Buffalo Bulls
Much like Kent State, Buffalo has struggled in football for most of their tenure in the MAC.
NIU should be able to outscore and outlast this Bulls squad that was one of the worst teams in the MAC last year.
Even though the game is away, the Huskies should get a solid win here.
Prediction: NIU win 42-28 (3-3, 2-0).
Week 8: Sat., Oct. 21st - @ Bowling Green Falcons
For a long time these were two of the best teams in the MAC, creating one of the more fun and unique rivalries in the country. But the past two years have seen both stumble some.
They are still even in talent, but aren’t the top dogs anymore. To me, this is a toss up game that could easily go either way.
The Falcons are at home and the Huskies don’t have a proven offense...I think BGSU steals this one.
Prediction: Huskies lose 31-27 (3-4, 2-1).
Week 9: Thur., Oct. 26th - Eastern Michigan Eagles
The Huskies work on a short week but get the benefit of a home game against the Eagles.
While EMU has shown some improvement as of late, they still are on the weaker side of the MAC West. The Huskies should be able to use their strong ground attack to run clock and take some pressure of the QB.
Huskies should win this game.
Prediction: NIU wins 38-17 (4-4, 3-1).
Week 10: Thur., Nov. 2nd - @ Toledo Rockets
As much as I want to say the Huskies will march into Toledo and leave with a victory, I just don’t have the confidence to say that this year.
With an unknown QB (at this point) and little faith in Graham, even though he’s won there before, I just think the Rockets have more firepower and can outlast the younger Huskies.
I do think it’ll be close... NIU hates Toledo and is always geared up to play.
Prediction: NIU falls 38-28 (4-5, 3-2).
Week 11: Thur., Nov. 9th - Ball State Cardinals
The Battle for the Bronze Stalk heads to DeKalb this year where the Huskies look to win their ninth straight against the Cardinals.
Ball State was one of the worst team in the MAC last year and while they’ll improve some, I just don’t see NIU letting the trophy fall into Ball State hands this year.
We should have the talent to escape this close game.
Prediction: NIU narrowly wins 31-28 (5-5, 4-2).
Week 12: Wednesday, November 15th - Western Michigan Broncos
PJ Fleck left for the frozen tundras of Minnesota and Zach Terrell and Corey Davis are gone too, but the Broncos still have a lot of talent on this team and are probably going to be one of the MAC West favorite again just based on the depth of the roster alone.
NIU might be able to keep it close for most of the game but just won’t have enough to get over the hump.
Prediction: Huskies lose 38-24 (5-6, 4-3).
Week 13: Fri., Nov. 24th - @ Central Michigan Chippewas
If I had to pick the most evenly matched squads this year, these are the two I’m picking. But, for some unknown reason, CMU has been the Huskies’ kryptonite for years now.
This game comes after a nine-day break for NIU while CMU will have had 10 days off, so I expect a strong start from both teams.
NIU will be fighting for a bowl birth here so I expect they will be the aggressor coming in. They have the skill to beat this team and like most games between these both teams, it’ll probably be close. If Cooper Rush was still slinging passes I’d say CMU wins, but this year the Huskies will prevail.
Prediction: NIU gets bowl eligible with a 31-24 win (6-6, 5-3).
The non-conference slate looks tough for NIU but they open up with an easier MAC schedule that should help this team get to the post-season again.
Now if only they could win a bowl game under Rod Carey...