Can Northern Illinois win the MAC in 2014?
Over the past two season the Northern Illinois Huskies have been the cream of the crop in the MAC Conference. Busting the BCS, the Huskies went up against Florida State in the 2013 Orange Bowl losing 31-10. Last year the Huskies were on the verge of doing the inevitable again in busting the BCS after an undefeated regular season, which included to wins against the Big Ten. They man handled in the MAC Championship Game by Bowling Green then lost to Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl. The big question this year is, can Northern Illinois win the MAC this year?
Over the last two years the Huskies have had no question who their starting quarterback was, Jordan Lynch will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever wear a Huskies uniform. This year they don’t have that option as the 2014 Heisman Finalist is now at training camp with the Chicago Bears.
Coach Rod Carey will have to decide between three guys for his starting quarterback this year. Drew Hare, Matt Mcintosh and Western Illinois transfer Anthony Maddie will be competing for the successor of Lynch.
If you think the offense is going to be the weak link of this years team, you are mistaken. Even with the exit of Lynch, the offense will still be one of the best in the MAC. They are very deep in playmaker’s and have an overlooked offensive line that allowed only 11 sacks in 14 games last year.
The offensive line could have three All-Conference players by the end of the season in Ryan Brown, Tyler Loos and Aidan Conlon. If Tyler Pitts can improve as the season goes along, he will be among those talked about for All-Conference honors.
The line was also a help in the Huskies 297.2 yards per carry last season, a MAC best, and could raise that bar this year with the depth at running back. Akeem Daniels will return to the backfield in 2014 as the Huskies starting running back. Daniels sat out 2013 due to a foot injury but ran for 447 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012. Cameron Stingily replaced Daniels last year and had 1,119 yards rushing with nine touchdowns. Daniels will carry the load for the first four games of 2014 as Stingily is out due to an undisclosed injury.
The two will be a great tandem once conference play starts, if not the best tandem in the MAC. The help of these two running backs will take some pressure off who ever wins the quarterback job.
Da’Ron Brown had 46 catches for 752 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2013 and he looks to improve those numbers this season. On the other side of the field is Tommylee Lewis who had 86 receptions for 715 yards last year. If I had to tell you what secondary in the MAC could keep up with these guys, it would be no one. Brown and Lewis will help get the Huskies quarterback, no matter who it is, All-Conference attention by the end of season. That’s how good they are.
The depth goes even farther on the receiver charts with Juwan Brescacin, Chad Beebe and Aregeros Turner all return as well in 2014. Aregeros could be in for a break out season, a star sophomore recruit, has a lot of potential for the Huskies next go to receiver.
The tight ends will have to play a bigger role in 2013, mostly in the red-zone. Without Lynch the Huskies will need to have some bigger bodies to get to the middle of the end-zone and go up for the ball. Luke Eakes and Desroy Maxwell are going to fill those roles. They combined for three touchdowns in 2013 but the tight end position was used more for blocking rather than receiving.
Northern’s offense will be explosive and high scoring, the returning players are going to play great dividends in helping the starting quarterback get comfortable and on his game in a hurry. They will be a run first team due to the depth of running backs,which will make life easier on the quarterback getting comfortable.
The defense on the other hand is where the Huskies are going to have to find chemistry and improvement. The defensive line has no starters returning and captain Jimmie Ward is now playing for the San Francisco 49ers. The highlight of the defense is going to be in the linebacker corp.
Boomer Mays will man the middle again after having 82 tackles in 2013 and Jamaal Bass and either Jamaal Payton or Michael Santacaterina will start on the outsides at linebacker. Bass will be the biggest defensive threat for the Huskies now that Jimmie Ward is gone. Bass has 87 tackles last year and wouldn’t be surprised if he went over the century mark this season.
Cornerback Marlon Moore will move to strong safety this season to cover the void of Ward. We won’t really know how Moore will be at safety, after playing cornerback all season last year, he will have to get used to covering a lot more space. He is going to get pushed by starting free safety Dechane Durante who had 55 tackles and three interceptions last year. Durante’s name will come up at the end of the year for All-Conference honors.
Anthony Brooks will be the new starting cornerback has Moore moves to safety. Just like Moore he will need to gain experience at his position but will also have a mentor in Paris Logan to teach him the ropes and get him fired up for game day’s. Logan had 42 tackles and one interception in 11 games last year and could be one of the MAC’s most underrated players at corner.
The biggest scare is the line, as the secondary should pick things up quickly with the leadership of Bass and Durante. Four new starters will be on the line with Jason Meehan and Perez Ford covering the ends. Mario Jones should start at tackle with Donovan Gordon starting at nose guard. Gordon could also be another member of the All-Conference team at season’s end.
If the line can come together and defend the run, a not so easy task knowing the size of the players, they can be good enough to take some of the pressure off the offense. You probably won’t see many games where the opponent scores less than 21 points, but the offense should be able to compete in shootouts.
With all the playmakers that the Huskies return and how their schedule plays out, I don’t see any reason Northern can’t return to the MAC title game for a rematch with Bowling Green. I’m not saying the Huskies will go undefeated and bust the BCS again, but I’m saying they can at least get two maybe three wins in their first four games. Ball State will give them a run for their money as the Huskies go on the road to play them but in the end Northern is an all around better team than Ball State.
The Big match-up will be at home against Toledo. In no way do I see the Huskies let them come into their home and disappoint the chance to get their fifth consecutive MAC West Championship.
Featured image via (myniu.com)