NIU Still A National Threat In 2014?
What happens when you lose a starting quarterback who ranks second on the school’s career total offense list, had a 24-4 record, was a Heisman finalist and owns countless school and NCAA records? For one team in the Mid-American Conference, it is a hard question to answer.
After having reached 14th in the BCS standings in Week 13 last season, any team would want to reach further. Northern Illinois hopes to do just that this season, and this time, win the MAC championship.
Head coach Rod Carey doesn't view the loss of quarterback Jordan Lynch to graduation as hardening as fans might.
"It's like anything in life when you achieve something great," Carey said. "Are you afraid to lose what you achieved or are you ready to do more?"
In 2013, NIU wiped out the MAC in scoring and total offense. This year, the Huskies have three quarterbacks challenging to replace Lynch in Matt McIntosh, Drew Hare and Anthony Maddie. All have shown great potential, although none has had much playing time with Lynch as the star.
Spring did not say where they stood with any decisions, especially with the spring game being a letdown by all three.
“The quarterbacks took a major step back, and it’s really disappointing," Carey said afterwards. "I thought it was the first day we went backward there."
The entire offensive line, however, will return for Northern Illinois to help whoever is chosen at quarterback. Cameron Stinily, who rushed for 1,119 yards at tailback, returns, along with his dual-threat backfield mate, senior Akeem Daniels, who should make an explosive return after a foot injury last season. The passing game should have many options with more seasoned players. Wide receiver Tommylee Lewis caught 79 percent of the passes thrown his way, although he only averaged 8.3 yards per catch. He will be helped out by Da’Ron Brown and Juwan Brescacin, who averaged over 15 yards per catch.
The defense is the clear weakness for the Huskies. They have been more focused on speed than size, and their recruits mimic that approach. They may continue to get pushed around due to a lack of bulk, but not if they want to make gains nationally. The Huskies do keep their three starting linebackers, which should be able to hold up well against the run. The defensive line returns Jason Meehan, Perez Ford and will bring sophomore Austin Smaha to close the gap left from last season. NIU ranked last in run stops behind the line in 2013, but cannot afford to get pushed around with an offense that will not be as dynamic as last season.
“The defense, I’ll tell you what, we’ve got a lot of young guys running around in there,” Carey said after the spring game. “Perez (Ford) and (Austin) Smaha, it’s their time”
NIU opens its season at Huskie Stadium where it should extend the nation's leading active winning streak at home to 27 games against Presbyterian. The Huskies' schedule should play in their favor; starting at home and managing to sneak past the two best teams in the East Division. More than likely, they will compete in the MAC against Buffalo or Bowling Green — that is if their new quarterback lives up to the demands and their defense gains the strength needed to beat out the competition.
Carey could not agree more.
"We were in the Top 25 most of the year and knocking on the door again for another conference title and a big bowl berth,” Carey said.
Call him crazy, but when Carey's coaching style is consistent in transforming amateur players to record-breaking stars like Lynch, you tend to stand behind his word.