The Northern Illinois Huskies unveiled their 2015 schedule last week. That means we can finally focus on football again...even if it is still six months away.
A Brief Recap of 2014
Last season, after a QB battle lasting a few months (and the first few games), it was decided that Drew Hare would helm the Huskies. The Good: NIU finished 11-3, beat another B1G team, took home their third MAC Championship in four years. The Bad: CMU ended NIU's 29-game home winning streak (and is the only MAC team that has beaten NIU in the regular season since 2009). They also got destroyed by Arkansas and were blown out by Marshall in the Boca Raton Bowl.
The Huskies lose three starters on their offensive line - Tyler Loos, Tyler Pitt, and Ryan Brown. Loos could be on his way to the NFL come this May and both Pitt and Brown were long time starters. The Huskies still have seniors Aidan Conlon and Andrew Ness coming back but there is a huge hole that needs to be filled on the line which means some players are going to have to step up to fill that void.
Cameron Stingily, NIU's big, bruising running back is gone. Stingily played for just two years but he racked up 2095 yards, 23 rushing touchdowns, and averaged 5.27 yards per carry.
One of NIU's best receivers, Da'Ron Brown, is also gone. In his four years, he accounted for just under 2300 receiving yards on 154 grabs and 21 total touchdowns. He's another player that has an outside chance of playing on Sundays and was NIU's lone player at the Scouting Combine a few weeks ago.
For the second consecutive year the Huskies will lose their best safety. Dechane Durante graduates after filling in for Jimmie Ward as the teams go-to defensive back. Last season alone Durante had 87 tackles, four picks, three pass breakups, and a fumble recovery.
As mentioned above, Aidan Conlon and Andrew Ness are going to be the keys to keeping Hare upright next season. Both have started every game the past three season and will need to help the next generation of linemen step up.
It Wasn't Always This Way: The Northern Illinois Dynasty
Over the last eighteen years, fans in the MAC have come to know NIU at the top of the West. But that hasn't always been the case.
Despite losing Da'Ron Brown, the Huskies welcome back Tommylee Lewis, who, after being injured last season, will play in his final season at NIU. Lewis has 1282 receiving yards, 558 rushing yards, 1656 yards on kick returns, and 15 total touchdowns.
The Huskies should be in good shape on defense as they return most of their starters (minus Durante and Jason Meehan). But look for Boomer Mays, Rasheen Lemon, and Perez Ford to terrorize QBs up front and Marlon Moore to become a leader in the secondary.
NIU signed 30 players on National Signing Day, which should help them immensely. The Huskies were able to sign three three-star recruits to bolster their offensive line: Nathan Veloz (guard), Vince Hughes (tackle), and Jordan Steckler (tackle).
Marcus Jones and DJ Brown will help the Huskies rushing attack while Kyle Pugh is a three-star linebacker that can help replace the loss of Michael Santacaterina.
Finally, the biggest addition is Spenser Tears. Tears, a 6-2 wide receiver, was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN and 48th best WR in the country. Tears originally committed to Nebraska but later decided that NIU would be a better fit. If there was one player that could make a name for himself on day one, it's Tears.
|2015 NIU Football Schedule|
|Date||Opponent (2014 record)|
|9/5 (Saturday)||UNLV (2-11)|
|9/12 (Saturday)||Murray State (3-9)|
|9/19 (Saturday)||at Ohio State (14-1)|
|9/26 (Saturday)||at Boston College (7-6)|
|10/3 (Saturday)||at CMU (7-6)|
|10/10 (Saturday)||Ball State (5-7)|
|10/17 (Saturday)||at Miami (2-10)|
|10/24 (Saturday)||EMU (2-10)|
|11/3 (Tuesday)||at Toledo (9-4)|
|11/11 (Wednesday)||at Buffalo (5-6)|
|11/18 (Wednesday)||WMU (8-5)|
|11/24 (Tuesday)||Ohio (6-6)|
Saturday, September 5: UNLV Rebels
The Huskies beat the Rebels last season and there's no reason that they shouldn't win again this year - especially since their best player from a year ago, WR Devante Davis, is gone. Huskies win.
Saturday, September 12: Murray State Racers
Murray State is an FCS school that struggled last season. The Huskies should have no problem putting away the Racers. Huskies win.
Saturday, September 19: @ Ohio State Buckeyes (2014 National Champions)
Who wouldn't love seeing the Huskies upset the Buckeyes? Sadly though, it's probably not going to happen. There's not much else to say at this time, other than Huskies lose.
Saturday, September 26: @ Boston College Eagles
This one is a swing game. The Huskies could knock off the the Eagles if they play well, as BC has been a middle to lower tier member of the ACC for the past five seasons. That being said, the Eagles are coming off a big game against FSU, while the Huskies will look to rebound after their Ohio State loss...as of right now, I think the Huskies lose a nail-biter...but it could go either way.
Saturday, October 3: @ Central Michigan Chippewas
The Huskies will look for revenge after CMU beat NIU last season. And while CMU might be on the upswing, it should be a Huskies win.
Saturday, October 10: Ball State Cardinals
NIU is riding a 6-game winning streak against the Cardinals, last losing in 2008. The Huskies speed and depth should keep that streak going. Sure, it's a rivalry game and the Cardinals will keep it close and play tough, but overall NIU should take care of business at home. Huskies win.
Saturday, October 17: @ Miami RedHawks
The Huskies sneaked away with a victory at home last season and now they'll be on the road trying to do it again. I think the maturation of Drew Hare will lead to a better offensive output from the Huskies and they'll be able to take out the RedHawks in better fashion. Huskies win.
Saturday, October 24: Eastern Michigan Eagles
NIU should be able to run away with this one. The Eagles haven't beaten NIU since 2007 and I don't see it happening this year. Huskies win.
Tuesday, November 3: @ Toledo Rockets
The Battle for the MAC West takes place in Toledo this year and is another swing game for the Huskies. NIU has had Toledo's number since 2008 but, being an away game, it is going to be very tough for the Huskies to pull this one out. I'm going to say Huskies win but only because I can't bring myself to say we're going to lose to Toledo. I'm not confident in my pick, but I'm sticking with it.
Wednesday, November 11: @ Buffalo Bulls
Buffalo is a team that has been getting better the past few years but they still aren't a team at the top of the MAC. It could be a trap game for NIU, if the Huskies are able to beat the Rockets the week before. NIU should be able to win this game. Huskies win.
Wednesday, November 18: WMU Broncos
NIU has been dominant at home for the past seven years, and thank goodness for that. The Broncos are a very talented team that could out-play the Huskies. It is yet another swing game and will depend on how Hare and the defense plays. This will be a close game...but because the Huskies are at home, Huskies win.
Tuesday, November 24: Ohio Bobcats
Ohio might be the best team the Huskies play from the MAC East. That being said, the East still isn't up to par with the West in terms of top teams. NIU is at home and should take care of them, finishing the season strong. Huskies win.
Overall 2015 Prediction
The Huskies can easily have another 10+ win season. Yes, Ohio State is already marked down as a loss and there's three or so swing games that could go either way...but NIU can sweep the MAC if they can get past Toledo and WMU. It's not going to be easy by any means but with Drew Hare being a year older and wiser (and Tommylee Lewis returning), the Huskies offense shouldn't skip a beat at all.
Defensively, the Huskies didn't lose too many key players last year and played quite a few underclassmen. Those younger players being more experienced should mean that the Huskies will see a better defense this year.
So from where I sit, NIU is Detroit bound again.