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2022 MAC Football Positional Previews: Northern Illinois Huskies offensive line

The Huskies will rely on their front five to set up their offense...luckily it’s one of the deepest groups in the MAC.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 NIU at Georgia Tech Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There is one school that stands above the rest when it comes to producing great offensive linemen year after year after year in the MAC - the Northern Illinois Huskies. Sure, CMU has had their share of great linemen (even having a #1 overall draft pick), but it has been the Huskies that have dominated the OL category consistently for the past two decades.

Last season, the Huskies allowed just ten sacks (second fewest in the NCAA) and ten quarterback hurries, while averaging the fifth most rushing yards in the FBS, so the offensive line was certainly one of the bright spots for the Huskies.

And this year should be no different for NIU. Northern has an incredibly young, yet insanely deep and talented, line that should have no problems protecting quarterback Rocky Lombardi or opening up holes for their run game. They return four of their five starters from last season, with three players starting 20+ games in a row for the Huskies.

The Huskies have 18 offensive linemen listed on their roster and, as with every positional group for them, the vast majority are underclassmen, but with a few who have now had a few years of experience already. There are just two upperclassmen listed - Marques Cox and Nolan Potter - both of whom are juniors. Otherwise there are five sophomores (three redshirt, two true sophomores), seven redshirt freshmen, and four true freshmen on the team.

The two starting tackles are Cox and Potter, both of whom have been named to multiple preseason award/watch lists.

Nolan Potter, the right tackle, is a 6-6 junior who has started the last 20 games for the Huskies and has already wracked up accolades. Last season he was named a first team All-MAC selection by Pro Football Network, a second team All-MAC player by league coaches and Pro Football Focus (PFF), and listed on Phil Steele’s all-conference third team. And to start this season, he was listed on PFF’s All-MAC first team, Athlon’s All-MAC first team, and even made it to the Outland Trophy’s preseason watchlist. Look for him to lead the way up front and open up some big holes for the run game.

On the other side, Marques Cox, a 6-6 junior, will start at left tackle. He was listed as on the 3rd team of the preseason All-MAC list by Athlon Sports and was a first team All-MAC player according to PFF. Like Potter, he has started every game the last two season but has gone above and beyond, by starting ten games in 2019 as well. So he has plenty of experience protecting the QB and making holes for the halfbacks.

The guards are led by a pair of sophomores in J.J. Lippe and Logan Zschernitz.

Zschernitz, the right guard, has started also started the last 20 games for NIU and had an amazing season last year - being named to Phil Steele’s second team and listed on the MAC coach’s third team. To start this season, he has been named to Athlon’s first team All-MAC list, College Football News’ first team All-MAC list, and PFF’s All-MAC second team.

Starting at left guard will be J.J. Lippe. The redshirt sophomore started 13 games last season but appeared in all 14 contests plus played in three back in 2020. He was an Academic All-MAC member last season and was listed on this year’s PFF preseason All-MAC third team.

The Huskies center will most likely be Pete Nygra, who will replace last year’s starter Brayden Patton, who has since graduated. Nygra, a redshirt freshman, played in three games last season but was primarily used in the “jumbo package” as a tight end. In high school he was the #1 center in the state of Indiana, according to 247Sports and a member of the National Honor Society.

Backing up the starters are sophomores John Champe and Evan Buss, both of whom have started games in the past for the Huskies. Champe was the sixth man last year, appearing in every game, mostly rotating in at left guard. He also played in all six, and started the final three, games of the 2020 season. Buss made his first career start in the last NIU game, starting the Cure Bowl against Coastal Carolina, but he played in 13 games last year and in all six in 2020.

The other names listed on the roster at OL are Abiathar Curry (Fr.), Leif Engstrand (So.), Drew Hoth (R-Fr.), Bubba Hubbard (Fr.), Brandon MacKinnon (R-Fr.), Evan Malcore (Fr.), Luke Pinnick (R-Fr.), Tyler Pitcel (R-Fr.), Matt Schooley (R-Fr.), Seth Thompson (R-Fr.), and Tony Webb Jr. (Fr.).