It's hard to be upset at a 12-2 record. But for the Northern Illinois Huskies, and their fans alike, December was a tough month to handle (thank goodness it's over!). The Huskies ended their 2012 campaing with the disappointing loss in the Orange Bowl, but looked to forget that in 2013 and get back to that promise land known as the BCS. That one goal fueled the Huskies and provided this year's team with the motto "finish the fight". Head coach Rod Carey, in his first full year, had a ton of talent to work with, including the man who would become a household name come November - Jordan Lynch. For the 2013 Huskies, there was a lot of good, some bad, and even some things that made us laugh and cry.
The season for the Huskies started way before a game was even played, when NIU started their Heisman push for Lynch by sending out lunchboxes and note pads, and creating a facebook and twitter account all adorned with the slogan JordanLynchFor6.
But for all the hype, the Huskies still had a full season to play, which they would start on the final day of August, on the road against Iowa - where they would avenge the one-point loss they suffered last season on a last second field goal that was set up by Jimmie Ward's first interception (he would finish with seven). It was the first time the Huskies had beaten Iowa in nine attempts. They wouldn't stop there though. After coming a way with a 45-35 victory against the Idaho Vandals to get to 2-0 on the year, the Huskies would then play in-state rival Eastern Illinois. Against the Panthers, NIU would overcome a horrendous start witch had them down 20-0 after just eight minutes. But Lynch and company would go on to score the next 30 points and survive with a 43-39 win. Their fourth game was against Purdue in West Lafayette, where the Huskies played one of their best games, crushing the Boilermakers 55-24. Ward had a pick-six and Tommylee Lewis ran back the second half kickoff for a TD, the fourth of his career - a school record. With the win, NIU became the only MAC school to beat two B1G teams in a season.
NIU would then open their conference schedule with wins over Kent State (38-24), Akron (27-20), and CMU (38-17). In the CMU game, Lynch would break a 23 year old record when he rushed for 316 yards, an FBS record for a QB. After the CMU game, the Huskies would find their groove and blow out EMU and UMass by a combined score of 122-39. Against Ball State the Huskies and Cardinals would battle back and forth, but Lynch would take over and the Huskies would score 21 points in the final six minutes to win 48-27.
The battle for the MAC West once again came down to Toledo and NIU. The first half was close but Lynch once again took over in the second half and the Huskies outscored Toledo 28-7 in the final 30 minutes, winning 35-17. After weeks and weeks of NIU trailing, and Huskie fans keeping a watchful eye on, Fresno State in the BCS standings it was the Toledo victory that would leapfrog the Huskies over the Bulldogs into 14th. NIU wrapped up the season when they ousted WMU 33-14, behind Lynch's second record-breaking day. This time he ran for 321 yards, breaking the record he established just 39 days prior. At 12-0, it was the first time the Huskies had ever finished a regular season undefeated as a Division-1 school.
They would play Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game, and that's where things went south. BGSU would never trail as they expose NIU's defense on their way to a 47-27 rout of NIU - the first MAC loss since October 1st, 2011. It would also ruin the Huskies BCS run, dropping them from no. 14 to no. 23, and from the Fiesta Bowl to the Poinsettia Bowl against Utah State. The Aggies would do more of the same to the Huskies, holding Lynch and co. to just 315 yards and, more importantly, just 14 points. The 21-14 loss to Utah State marked the first time NIU had lost consecutive games since September of 2011.
Jordan Lynch: All Lynch did was throw for 2892 yards and 24 TDs while running for 1920 yards and 23 TDs, becoming one of just five players to ever run and pass for 20+ TDs in a season. He became the third player to pass for 6000 and rush for 4000 in a career and has accounted for 99 total touchdowns in his career. We have taking a liking to him here, so we have also started a campaign to start a yearly award named after him.
Heisman Ceremony: You might have heard something about this. Lynch also finished third in the Heisman voting this year - an NIU and MAC record, and tied for the highest a non-AQ player has ever been.
Jimmie Ward: Ward joined Lynch as the only Huskies to garner All-American status. He amassed seven INTs (tied for second in the FBS), 95 tackles, 10 pass break-ups, and forced and recovered a fumble. He is rated the seven best safety in May's draft and should find a spot on an NFL roster easily.
Cameron Stingily: The junior halfback was a pleasant surprise for the Huskies as he ran for 1119 yards and added nine more TDs on the ground.
Streaks: The Huskies racked up huge streaks this year ; including a MAC-record 25 straight conference wins, 26* consecutive home wins, and 15* straight road wins. In fact, over the last two seasons, the only losses the Huskies have came at neutral stadiums. (* = leads FBS and is still an active streak)
12-0: It was the first time since 1963 that the Huskies won their first 10 games. They also are the only squad in NIU history to finish perfect as a FBS team.
December: The MAC Championship Game and Poinsettia Bowls are a terrible end to what was a stellar year for the Huskies.
Arrests: Cameron Stingily was arrested, but not suspended or penalized, for missing a court date back in September.
December: Did I mention how terrible last month was?
Coach Carey's Love of His Kicker:
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Lynch's Incredible Balance:
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Lynch Can Catch Too!:
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Who We Lose:
NIU doesn't have too many seniors on this team, but there are some huge losses looming. Here's the key ones.
Jordan Lynch, QB - uh oh.
Matt Kremple, OL
Matt Battaglia, OL
Jared Volk, OL
Matt Sims, K - not a huge deal if you're Rod Carey
Jimmie Ward, S - ouch.
Ken Bishop, DL
Joe Windsor, DL
Sean Evens, S
George Rainey, DL
What To Expect Next Year:
The Huskies have a decent chance to survive the loss of Lynch and Ward. All the receivers and runningbacks return, (plus Akeem Daniels come back!) but Lynch was such a huge part of this team that whoever replaces him (Matt McIntosh most likely) will have a lot of expectations to live up to. The Huskies have just five home games again in 2014. The non-conference schedule isn't too harsh, as they open against Presbyterian, then travel to Northwestern, UNLV, and Arkansas. Winning two or three of those games are certainly possible. If McIntosh can play half as well as Lynch did in his career, with the weapons they will have on the edge and in the backfield, the offense shouldn't struggle too much. Defensively, the Huskies will need some players to step up - especially in the secondary and on the line. Winning eleven or twelve games again doesn't seem realistic, it will probably be more like seven or eight. But who knows! Remember how worried we all were when Chandler Harnish graduated? Maybe Matt McIntosh is the next Jordan Lynch.