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Northern Illinois has won five straight MAC West titles and claimed another MAC Championship game win in 2014. The success has taken place under several coaches and a couple of elite quarterbacks. Paving the way to MAC dominance has been the Huskies ability to – among other things – defeat Toledo. While the Rockets have typically put up a stiff challenge (e.g. 27-24 last year, 63-60 in 2011), the Huskies have prevailed in each of the last five matchups.
About the only negative is that NIU has dropped its last three bowl appearances. The Huskies ran into a buzz saw last year as Marshall rolled to a 52-23 win.
Despite the loss of quarterback Jordan Lynch (Heisman Trophy finalist), the Huskies offense thrived again in 2014. NIU was second among MAC teams (36th nationally) in total offense (441.2 ypg) and fourth (MAC) in scoring. A key component of the offense was its running attack – also second in the MAC and 16th nationally – which provided 249.1 ypg.
Northern Illinois topped the conference in turnover margin – a strong corollary to winning football. The Huskies were plsu-12, putting them ninth on the national level.
Quarterback Drew Hare stepped up big time in his first year at the Huskies Helm. The then-sophomore completed 60 percent of his passes, tossing 18 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
Hare is a deceptively effective runner. He netted 900 yards rushing on the season, including a long run of 78 yards, and also stepped off eight rushing touchdowns. He actually would have led the team in yards rushing had not sacks/TFL been figured into the mix.
Cameron Stingly and Akeem Daniels combined for 1,361 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns (14 by Stingly) last year. Both are gone. Junior RB Joel Bouagnan, however, is back. He picked up 655 yards and scored 5TDs while averaging 5.8 yards per carry in 2014. The latter was better than either Stingily or Daniels.
With DaRon Brown (team best 68 catches, along with 1,065 yards and 6 touchdowns) departed, the Huskies will be happy to get back wideout Tommy Lee Lewis (86 receptions in 2013). He missed most of 2014 due to injury. Hare can also target senior Juwan Brescacin and Kenny Galloway. The latter is transfer who led North Dakota with 69 receptions for 884 yards and 18 TDs in 2013.
Defensively, Northern Illinois finished last season fifth in scoring (26.6 ppg), fourth in total defense (391.6 ypg), sixth in rushing (163.1 ypg) and fifth in passing 228.5).
Safety Marlon Moore returns for his junior season after leading the Huskies with 99 tackles in 2014. In fact, NIU returns six of its top seven tacklers. Joining Moore are LB Rasheen Lemon (90), CB Paris Logan (77), LB Boomer Mays (75), LB Sean Follard (65) and DE Perez Ford (57, 9 TFL).
Kicker Christian Hagan converted 8 of 15 field goal attempts (53.3%). Two attempts were blocked.