All good things come to an end.
Northern Illinois learned this lesson "the hard way" — which has been a team slogan for quite some time now. The Huskies snapped an eight-game bowl streak, dating back to 2008. Also broken was Northern Illinois' impressive run of six-consecutive MAC West titles.
Despite the pain of missing out on postseason play and ending a season below .500, Rod Carey and the Huskies showed a return to normalcy toward the end of the 2016 season. The Black and Red finished the campaign 5-3 in conference play, emerging victorious in four out of their last five contests. But it was the 0-4 non-conference start, including a loss to FCS Eastern Illinois, that ruined the season.
In 2017, Northern Illinois has a perfect opportunity in DeKalb to knock off ACC foe Boston College to begin the new season on the right foot. The two teams last squared off in 2015, with the 3-9 Eagles narrowly edging the 8-6 Huskies in Chestnut Hill, 17-14. The Boston College defense smothered the Huskies' offense on nearly every possession, allowing only 153 total yards and about 22 minutes of possession.
Both teams headed in opposite directions in 2016. Boston College finished 7-6, winning three straight to finish the season, including its first bowl victory since 2007. The Huskies have been deprived of bowl victories since 2011, but beating Boston College could set Northern Illinois in good position for an impressive 2017 season.
Players to Watch
Jordan Huff, RB, Northern Illinois
The Huskies are primarily a rushing team, electing to keep the ball on the ground on 57.8% of plays in 2016. With wide receiver Kenny Golladay entering his first NFL season, Northern Illinois will be equipped with an even younger receiving corps. The passing game is a question mark too, and both junior Ryan Graham and sophomore Daniel Santacaterina could see time at the position. With plenty of experience under his belt, Graham's career high in passing yards is 227, while Santacaterina's is 258 (in just two career games). Therefore, Carey will primarily turn to Huff and the running game on Saturday. Huff only received double-digit carries in four games last year but effectively capitalized on several of these opportunities. His career game occurred in a late-November overtime win over Eastern Michigan, eclipsing the century mark for the second time in 2016 (173 yards and three touchdowns). With a star tackle in Max Scharping leading the offensive line, Huff should play a key role in Friday's contest.
Shawun Lurry, CB, Northern Illinois
Boston College is a run-happy program, but Lurry will come in handy if the Eagles decide to test the air. Lurry is returning to the Huskies lineup after an injury-riddled 2016 season. In 2015, the cornerback achieved All-American honors by several media outlets for leading the FBS with nine interceptions. The senior has been prominent during his tenure in DeKalb as the Huskies' top shutdown corner. He has demonstrated impressive open-field tackling ability too, despite his smaller frame. Lurry will pair up against Michael Walker or Jeff Smith in Huskie Stadium on Friday night. It will be interesting to see if Lurry can add to his impressive interception résumé against the Eagles.
Harold Landry, DE, Boston College
No quarterback in the nation should feel comfortable with Landry lined up on the opposing side of the football. Landry is as dominant as any pass rusher in the FBS, recording an FBS-high 16.5 sacks during the 2016 season. He forced an FBS-high seven fumbles and finished with a monstrous 22 tackles for loss. Add four pass deflections and an interception to that season stat-line and it is easy to see why Landry is one of the sport's most versatile athletes. He possesses an impressive amount of speed for a defensive end, gaining a quick boost of acceleration immediately after any snap. His deadly spin move has been witnessed by several offensive linemen in the nation, and as a result of his skills, Landry is slated to become a high selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Darius Wade and/or Anthony Brown, QB, Boston College
Boston College is pulling the over-utilized college football trick — refusing to announce a starting quarterback prior to kickoff. The two competitors locked in the position battle are redshirt freshman Anthony Brown and redshirt senior Darius Wade. Wade is the more experienced of the duo, seeing the majority of action during his 2015 season. In three seasons, Wade has only attempted 69 passes with 19 occurring last season. Brown has yet to play a collegiate snap but has shown promise in practice. Head coach Steve Addazio will trot out one of the two quarterbacks on Saturday, but both could see time against the Huskies' defense.
Keys to the Game
Huskies must halt the run game
Boston College's primary offensive weapon is the running game. The days of Matt Ryan are long gone in Chestnut Hill. Addazio's offense is built primarily on the run, with six ball carriers passing the century mark in rushing yards last season. The Eagles will frequently switch up their ball carrier, and both quarterbacks also have capabilities to do damage on the ground. The Huskies' run defense is anchored by junior defensive end Josh Corcoran and senior outside linebacker Bobby Jones IV. Both defenders were among the many Huskies to miss action in 2016 due to injury, but both run stoppers will return to the field for Northern Illinois' clash against Boston College. If the Huskies limit the Eagles' rushing offense below 150 yards and force a turnover or two, Boston College will struggle scoring touchdowns on Friday, thus giving the Huskies' a great advantage.
Points are at a premium, so any score is a good score
The last meeting between these teams produced 31 points. In a typical Boston College game, points are a rarity. The Eagles' defense ranked seventh in rushing yards allowed, eighth in total yards allowed, and only yielded a mere 24.6 points per game in 2016. When Boston College plays an opponent of similar caliber, the games often are won by slim margins. Sometimes, 20 points aren't even necessary. The Huskies' offense will likely face plenty of struggle on Friday, especially with the unit playing its first game together. Instead of gambling in fourth-and-short opportunities, Northern Illinois must take points whenever available, even if that means relying on the leg of senior kicker Christian Hagan (11-of-18 on field goals in 2016). Field position is important in low scoring games, so punting to pin the Eagles deep should be a wise decision that Carey's staff cannot pass up on. The first team to score three touchdowns, if that occurrence happens, is likely the winner in this contest.
The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network on Friday night, with kickoff scheduled for 9:30 PM EST. This matchup occurred in 2015 in Chestnut Hill, but the 2017 edition of the game will transpire in DeKalb. Boston College is the Huskies' first of two Power Five opponents this season, with a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska looming in mid-September.
Remember the infamous Wake Forest-Virginia Tech game that entered overtime with a 0-0 score? This game shouldn't reach that level of absurdity, but points should be rare in this contest. Northern Illinois' quarterbacks Graham and Santacaterina are not air raid quarterbacks and neither are Boston College's two signal callers. The clock will be ticking for the majority of the game, run after run, with the score remaining tightly contested throughout. Given Boston College's strong 2017 finish and relentless defense, the Eagles emerge with a slight edge.
Prediction: Boston College 16, Northern Illinois 13