Northern Illinois football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Huskies, best players and season prediction.
Bowling Green might have won two of the last three MAC championships, but Northern Illinois is still the league’s superpower over the last six years.
Bowling Green hasn’t been to an Orange Bowl.
But as good as the run has been, and even when there are MAC champion t-shirts to put on, it’s been hard to take that next step forward because the Huskies keep getting their world rocked in bowl games.
It’s hard to be the next Boise State when you’re losing to Boise State 55-7 in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
To be fair, NIU was limping into the end of last year with injuries playing a big role in the three-game losing streak including a whacking from Bowling Green in the MAC title game along with the Boise State thumping. But losing the big game to close things out has become the norm, getting crushed by Marshall in the 2014 Boca Raton Bowl, losing to Utah State in the 2013 SDCCU Poinsettia, and getting rocked by Florida State in the 2013 Orange.
The program is taking the steps to become bigger and stronger with an upgrade in facilities and some dream balloons being thrown out about one day being worthy of Big 12 consideration, but to get there, the big, splashy wins have to come. That’s not really going to happen this year with a schedule without any big, splashy games.
But enough about what Northern Illinois isn’t. What it’s become is special on a consistent basis in the MAC, and it should be again with eight starters coming back on offense, six on defense, and enough depth and talent to once again be right there in the thick of things for the championship.
Once again the Huskies will be great from September to November, but this time around, everything has to build towards winning December.
What You Need To Know About The Northern Illinois Offense
Everything was humming along just fine until QB Drew Hare got hurt, and while he’s still getting over an Achilles tendon injury, the rest of the attack should be terrific again as long as the line comes around. NIU has become an O line factory, and now it should be among the MAC’s strongest again even with C Andrew Ness and OG Aidan Conlon done. Only 28 of the 2,662 yards of rushing production are gone, led by backs Joel Bouagnon and Jordan Huff leading the way – and, as always, whoever is under center – while the passing attack should be solid with Kenny Golladay and Aregeros Turner a dangerous 1-2 receiving punch. There’s depth at quarterback if Hare struggles or isn’t quite right.
Biggest Key To The Northern Illinois Offense
Can the rushing game be consistently dominant against everyone? The Huskies roared against the Eastern Michigan and the Buffalos of the world, but it got stuffed whenever it was dealing with a defense with any sort of teeth. In 2014, the attack worked against just about everyone on the way to 3,488 yards and 36 scores, but last season it ran for 2,662 yards – averaging more than a yard fewer per carry – with 31 touchdowns. Not running well against Ohio State or Boston College wasn’t shocking, but the O died down the stretch bottoming out with a brutal performance against Boise State, netting a -5 yards. NIU was 0-5 when rushing for 110 yards or fewer.
What You Need To Know About The Northern Illinois Defense
The D struggled at times with the secondary having problems and the run defense hardly a rock – it was a tough finish to an otherwise decent season. There’s promise for a big improvement starting with the interior led by the tackle combination of Mario Jones and William Lee, but the ends have to be replaced. It’s the opposite in the linebacking corps with star Boomer Mayes gone in the middle, but pass rusher Sean Folliard leading a dangerous group on the outside. The secondary that needed help needs even more after losing CB Paris Logan and S Marlon Moore, but Shawun Lurry is a sensational playmaking corner to work around.
Biggest Key To The Northern Illinois Defense
The run defense had the biggest problem in the losses going 1-4 when allowing over 200 yards – including in each of the last three games – but the secondary and the pass defense wasn’t a prize, even with a loaded group of talents. The interceptions were there thanks to Shawun Lurry – the Huskies came up with 22 – but they also got bombed on starting with the opener against UNLV and finishing with the air show from Boise State. Fortunately, there’s no one in the first part of the schedule who can throw a forward pass, but the statistics could be a mirage after the first five games going into the showdown at Western Michigan.
Northern Illinois Will Be Far Better If …
The punting game is better. Okay two years ago, it was outstanding in 2015 netting over 40 yards per boot and having a huge advantage in field position time and again. Time of possession turned into a big problem as the season went on, finishing averaging just over 26 minutes of ball control time, and tilting the field matters with NIU’s style. The Huskies averaged just 34.5 yards per punt, and even though the coverage team was fine, there needs to be more blast.
Best Northern Illinois Offensive Player
RB Joel Bouagnon, Sr. – Normally the quarterbacks are the rushing stars in the NIU offense, but it was the tandem of Bouagnon and Jordan Huff who carried most of the mail. While Bouagnon isn’t splashy, and he went nowhere over the final three weeks of the schedule, he was a touchdown machine for the first part of the season and did a nice job of carrying the attack. NIU was 5-1 when he ran for 100 yards or more.
Best Northern Illinois Defensive Player
CB Shawun Lurry, Jr. – No one will throw his way anymore after coming up with nine interceptions in an All-America season. This year, he has to be the leader and star of a secondary that loses FS Marlon Moore and CB Paris Logan. Very quick with a nose for the ball, he knows how to attack when he has the chance. Don’t expect superstar stats again, but he’ll still be one of the MAC’s best cover-corners.
Key Player To A Successful Season
DE Ladell Fleming, Sr. – A short, stout defensive end who’s build like a middle linebacker, he came up with a nice year in the rotation on the line making 31 tackles with three sacks and five tackles for loss. Able to play on the line or in the linebacking corps, this year he needs to standout on the end for a line that loses Perez Ford and Cameron Clinton-Earl.
The Northern Illinois Season Will Be A Success If …
It’s a MAC title season – and it finishes up with a bowl win. Just getting back to the MAC title game would be fantastic coming from the nasty West division, but after going to six straight title games anything less than a championship will do. Busting through the four game bowl losing streak would be a nice touch.
Oct. 8, at Western Michigan – the Huskies get all the other tough MAC games at home – or in Chicago – with a date at Ball State the toughest one outside of the date in Kalamazoo. The two road games come in back-to-back weeks, so if NIU starts out 2-0 in conference play, it’ll be in great shape.
2015 Northern Illinois Fun Stats
– Interceptions Thrown: Opponents 21 – Northern Illinois 10
– Rushing Touchdowns: Northern Illinois 31 – Opponents 13
– Time of Possession: Opponents 32:51 – Northern Illinois 27:09