After a promising start to the 2015 campaign for the Northern Illinois Huskies, the season culminated with a very disappointing ending (to say the least). However, the Huskies, who have won the MAC West six consecutive years, will look to rebound yet again from a long off-season.
NIU will once again have Toledo and Western Michigan chomping at their heels this year. And with questions and concerns popping up on the offensive side of the ball, the Huskies will need to rely on their defense to get them back to Detroit.
Even though we're still five months away from football season, let's take a quick look at what the Huskies have in store for the 2016 season.
Saturday, September 3rd - @ Wyoming (2015 Record: 2-10, 2-6 Mountain West)
Despite having a pretty sweet field design and the highest stadium elevation in the US (at 7220 feet) Wyoming hasn't had a great football team since 2011, which was the last time the Cowboys were above .500. The Huskies should have no troubles dealing with Wyoming. After all, even Eastern Michigan beat them last year...and it wasn't even close (48-29)! NIU wins.
Saturday, September 10th - @ South Florida (8-5, 6-2 American)
The last time these two teams met was in the International Bowl way back in 2010 with the Bulls winning 27-3. Just like then, NIU might struggle with the Bulls here. USF's defense barely allowed 21 points per game last year and if the Huskies struggle on offense this season, the Bulls could run away with this one. NIU might (and hopefully will) be able to keep it close with a solid defensive showing but USF will probably take it. NIU loses.
Saturday, September 17th - vs San Diego State (11-3, 9-0 Mountain West; MW Champs)
The Huskies second battle with a Mountain West opponent might not go as easily as the first. The Aztecs won their last nine games, including destroying Cincinnati 42-7 in the Hawaii Bowl. While SDSU will not have their starting QB and one of their two 1000-yard rushers from last season, they do return Donnel Pumphrey; a senior who has rushed for over 3500 and found the endzone 37 times yards the past two seasons.
NIU might have some trouble stopping him. I think this game could be more of a toss-up than the USF game, but the Huskies are going to need that home-field advantage to pull this one out. Toss Up.
Saturday, September 24th - vs Western Illinois (7-6, 5-3 Missouri Valley)
The Huskies shouldn't have any issues with their instate rivals. The Leathernecks have played NIU tough in the past and are actually nearly even in the series - NIU holds a 21-17-1 edge over WIU - but the Huskies depth and skill should be enough to dismantle any upset bid. NIU wins.
Saturday, October 1st - @ Ball State (3-9, 2-6)
NIU opens up MAC play with the Battle for the Bronze Stalk. The Cardinals have lost the last seven meetings between the two teams and, even with a Neu coach (see what I did there?), that trend should continue. The Huskies just have more depth and speed at skill positions than Ball State and should have a defensive unit that is able to stop whatever the Cardinals attack with. NIU wins.
Here's where things get dicey for the Huskies.
Saturday, October 8th - @ Western Michigan (8-5, 6-2)
With the Broncos having home-field advantage and a very solid team, the Huskies are going to need an incredible game from their defense to pull this game out. Not saying that there's no way NIU can win, but it's going to be a very difficult task. P.J. "Benedict Arnold" Fleck has once again recruited really well and has his team poised to win the west. I would to to write that NIU beats WMU for the eighth straight year, but I'm just not too confident that's going to happen. NIU loses.
What are Ohio's chances of winning the East?
The Ohio Bobcats were surprisingly successful this past year. Can they build on it next year?
Saturday, October 15th - vs Central Michigan (7-6, 6-2)
The Chippewas are the Huskies kryptonite. NIU has the skill to beat CMU on paper but when the game gets going all that gets tossed out. Speaking of tossing...this game to me is a toss-up because NIU just cant seem to find a way to get past CMU when they need to. I'm going to say NIU wins, but only because they are at home. Toss Up.
Saturday, October 22nd - vs Buffalo Bulls (5-7, 3-5)
The Huskies haven't lost to Buffalo since 1968 (9-0 in the past 48 years) and that streak should be extended here. Like Ball State, NIU should be able to use their speed and depth at wide receiver and running back to put up some points on Buffalo's defense. The Bulls are a much better team than they have been in the past but the Huskies should be a tad bit better. NIU wins.
Tuesday, November 1st - vs Bowling Green (10-4, 8-1; MAC Champs)
In a rematch of the past three MAC Championship games, Bowling Green will come to DeKalb for the first time since 2008. This is another game where the Huskies offense will most likely leave them coming up short. The Falcons will be without Matt Johnson and Roger Lewis (thank God!) making this a closer game than the MACC was last season, but BGSU will probably still pull this one out. NIU loses.
Wednesday, November 9th - vs Toledo (10-2, 6-2)
This game will be played at US Cellular Field (the home of MLB's Chicago White Sox) where it will probably have a higher attendance than most Sox games. The Huskies and Rockets have battled back-and-forth for the West the past decade (and by back-and-forth, I mean NIU has won them all). There is a certain hatred for Toledo that sparks NIU to play their best. Even though Toledo is the favorite, the Huskies will be ready for them, again. NIU wins.
Wednesday, November 16th - @ Eastern Michigan (1-11, 0-8)
NIU should have no problems with the Eagles here. Eastern looks like they are moving in the right direction, but the talent-gap is just too far in the Huskies' favor right now. NIU wins big.
Friday, November 25th - @ Kent State (3-9, 2-6)
Yes, just four short years ago these teams fought it out in double OT for a chance to go to a BCS Bowl game. Since then the Golden Flashes have fallen on hard times once again. NIU hasn't lost to Kent since 2001, and I don't see that happening this year. The Huskies might not win the MAC West this year, but there is very good chance that they will beat Kent State. NIU wins.
I've got NIU winning six games for sure, losing three, with two being toss ups and one being the Toledo game (no matter what I think, I'll never write that the Huskies will lose to the Rockets...ever!).
How about you? How do you see NIU doing this season?