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2014 NIU Huskies football season recap: not bad for a "rebuidling year"

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The Huskies continued to win in the MAC and B1G, but struggle with other conferences.

The Huskies claimed their third MAC Title in four years
The Huskies claimed their third MAC Title in four years
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Northern Illinois Huskies can't complain too much with their fifth straight 11 win season, making them one of just two teams that have 11+ wins each of the past five season (Oregon being the other). The losses are in bold in the table below.

NIU Huskies 2014 Schedule
NIU Opponent
Presbyterian 55 3
at Northwestern 23 15
at UNLV 48 34
at Arkansas 14 52
Kent State 17 14
CMU 17 34 Homecoming
Miami Univ. 51 41
at EMU 28 17
at Ball State 35 21
Toledo 27 24
at Ohio 21 14
at WMU 31 21
Bowling Green* 51 17 MAC Championship Game
Marshall* 23 52 Boca Raton Bowl
* = neutral field

The Huskies started with a big win against an up-and-coming FCS team in Presbyterian and followed that up with a huge win in a B1G stadium by escaping Northwestern 23-15. After finding a way to beat UNLV, the Huskies headed south to Arkansas, where the game with south quickly...losing 52-14.

NIU's offense lost their confidence after that, as they squeaked out a win against Kent State and then fell flat on Homecoming against CMU, which ended NIU's 28-game home winning streak and was the first regular season loss to a MAC team since 2011 (also to CMU).

After the loss to the Chips, the Huskies responded well - winning six straight to end the season, including over rivals Ball State and Toledo. A huge come-from-behind win over WMU in the final week sent NIU back to the MAC Championship game for the fifth straight year. This season they wouldn't be stopped - winning their third MAC Title in the last four years and seventh straight game.

After being matched against former MAC-foe, Marshall, in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl, the Huskies offense once again fell flat and the Huskies lost their third straight bowl game, this time in horrific fashion, 52-23.

Offense

After losing such a prolific player like Jordan Lynch, we all knew the offense was going to take a step back...but the real question was just how far back. Statistically, the Huskies this season averaged 80 less yards per game as last season. In 2013 NIU averaged 520 total yards (223 passing and 297 rushing) per game, while this year that number dropped to 441 yards (192 passing and 249 rushing). Those extra 80 yards last season equaled about eight more points per game, as NIU scored nearly 40 points per game in 2013 compared to just 31.5 points per game this season. Not a terrible step back for losing one of college football's best dual threat quarterback.

And it all began with the quarterback. The Huskies tried Matt McIntosh to start the season, but after a few inconsistent games, and an injury, Rod Carey decided that Drew Hare was the way to go. And he did rather well at managing the game for most of the season. Hare ended up with 2322 yards, 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also wasn't afraid to run with the ball, as he netted 900 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs. And he was only a sophomore!

The Huskies still ran the ball well this year, ranking in the top-20 in the FBS in rushing yards per game (294.1). NIU was led by senior running back Cameron Stingily, who tallied five yards per carry on his way to 971 yards and 14 touchdowns. Sophomore Joel Bouagnon stepped up this season and showed he's ready to take over next year, as he was third on the team in carries (113), yards (655), touchdowns (5), and had the highest yards per carry of the main backs (5.8 yards/rush).

At the beginning of the year, wide receivers Tommylee Lewis and Da'Ron Brown were both touted to have big seasons for the Huskies but only one of the two met those expectations. Lewis just had four receptions and six rushes all season long, as an injury sidelined him in week two. Brown went on to lead the team in grabs (68), yards (1065), and TDs (6, tied with Brescacin). No other receiver had more than 450 yards or 40 catches.

Defense

Despite losing the entire front four and start safety Jimmie Ward, the Huskies defense didn't fall too far back...in fact they played slightly better. The Huskies allowed just 25.6 points per contest and gave up 391 yards per game (228 passing and 163 rushing), 24 less yards per game than last season.  They were also one of the best teams in the nation at forcing turnovers, as NIU had a turnover margin of +12. The defense recovered ten fumbles and picked off 14 passes, with a season high six turnovers forced against WMU (four fumbles, two INT).

Dechane Durante was the man we all thought would lead the secondary (and he did with four picks), but it was Paris Logan that made himself the teams number one cover corner. The junior had 15 pass breakups, three interceptions, 77 tackles, and forced and recovered a fumble. Jason Meehan was the best player up front, as he led the team with his seven sacks, 9.5 tackles for a loss, and seven QB hurries.

High Points

- Beating Northwestern 23-15 to claim the Huskies third straight win over a B1G foe (as the beat Iowa and Purdue last season).

- Getting revenge in the MAC Championship Game. A year after losing badly to the Falcons, the Huskies crushed Bowling Green this season to win their third championship in four years.

- Setting a MAC record with seven straight bowl games.

Low Points

- Getting blown out by Arkansas (yeah, the SEC is pretty good I hear).

- Losing their first home game since 2009 to CMU, breaking a streak of 28 straight home wins.

- Marshall killing the Huskies in the Boca Raton Bowl...and I said it was going to be a close game. How wrong I was.

Key Losses

NIU has 20 seniors on it's roster, most of whom are offensive players.

Offensively, the Huskies lose five lineman, three starters (Tyler Loos, Tyler Pit, Ryan Brown, Wes Ott, and Michael Gegner). The players in bold are starters. And that is a big loss going forward. NIU will also lose Cameron Stingily, who has been a force to reckon with. Over the past two years he has 2090 rushing yards and 23 scores. The last big loss on offense for the Huskies is Da'Ron Brown. Brown has been huge for the Huskies the past four years, as he ends his career with 2290 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns.

On defense NIU has a few big losses. Upfront the Huskies will lose Jason Meehan, who has only missed one game the past four years. Meehan ends his time in DeKalb with 128 tackles, 14 sacks, 19.5 TFL, four fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble. Linebacker Michael Santacaterina will also graduate this season. Santacaterina has been one of NIU's most consistent LBs the past two years, and has totaled 180 tackles, 3 sacks, 13.5 TFL, three forced fumbles, and three picks in his career. Finally, the secondary loses Dechane Durante, who really stepped up after Ward left. Durante finished with 237 tackles, 11 picks, 12 pass breakups, five forced fumbles, two recoveries, and a blocked kick.

Grade: B+

As I said, it's hard to complain about an 11-3 season, especially when you win the MAC Championship. The Huskies just keep finding a way to win most games. Plug in a new player and they'll do well too. They seem to have a great handle on the MAC and B1G...it's just all those other conferences they need help beating. The losses to Arkansas and Marshall were reminders that NIU might not yet be ready for the big-time (although I can't say I would hate to see them in the Big Twelve...), but they can get there if they just keep heading down this path.

However, it was not all good, as the defense couldn't stop intermediate passes all season long, the offensive play calling was rather predictable and redundant, and the Huskies played rather conservative all year long, resulting in many games being closer than they should have been (i.e Kent State, CMU, Miami, EMU, ect...)

But there was also a lot going on for the Huskies off the field itself. This year Sean Frazier got us all hooked on #SchedulePalooza where they announced a plethora of marquee match ups over the next six years. Later they announced that the school would be renovating Huskie Stadium, upping the capacity to over 40,000.

The Huskies look to be headed in the right direction, both on and off the field. Rod Carey showed us that his system is built to win with any quarterback as, even without Lynch, the Huskies' trio (then duo) of QBs still found success for the most part. Sure, the bowl loss to Marshall left a bad taste in our mouths, but I'll take 11 wins and a MAC Title any year.