2018 RECORD: 8-6 (6-2 in MAC play)
HEAD COACH: Thomas Hammock (First year)
2019 PRESEASON POLL: Third in the Western Division
By EVAN MEYER
Powered by a six-game mid-season win streak, Northern Illinois came back from a 1-3 start last year to win it’s 11th MAC Western Division. Once in Detroit, the Huskies rallied from a 19-point third quarter deficit to defeat Buffalo and claim another MAC championship title.
The critical win skein followed a 1-3 start in which . . .
Although it lost two close games to close the regular season, Northern made it to the MAC title game and took advantage of its opportunity.
Head coach Ron Carey also got an opportunity and accepted the head coaching job at Temple after six seasons with NIU.
His exit ultimately ushered in a familiar face. Thomas Hammock, who played and coached for the Huskies, came back to his alma mater after five seasons in the NFL as the running backs coach with the NFL Baltimore Ravens under head coach John Harbaugh.
Hammock played at NIU from 1998-2002. He then began his coaching career at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez. Returning to NIU as running backs coach under Joe Novak, he mentored one of the best runners in school history in Garrett Wolfe.He then went to Minnesota and Wisconsin before heading to the NFL
Here’s more on Northern Illinois . . .
Scoring Offense: 20.1 ppg (10th MAC)
Scoring Defense: 22.6 ppg. (2nd MAC)
Total Offense: 322.3 ypg (10th MAC)
Total Defense: 357.0 ypg (4th MAC)
Turnover margin: minus 1 (7th MAC)
➤➤ The NIU offense will be under the direction of offensive coordinator Eric Eidness, who come from South Dakota State and is in his first year of coaching at the FBS level.
➤➤ QB Marcus Childers figures to open behind center.With a new coaching staff, the big question is will they keep Childress active as both runner and passer, or will they narrow his role. Childress completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,176 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for 531 yards and six scores.
➤➤ The running game is keyed by Tre Harbion, who rushed for 1,034 yards, becoming the first Huskie to reach that plateau since 2015. He registered five 100-yard rushing games and five touchdowns.
➤➤ The receivers are led by senior WR Spencer Tears, who had 40 catches for 429 yards and four touchdowns.
➤➤ The offensive line looks to find a replacement for the departed Max Scharping, who went to the Houston Texas. RT Jordan Stechler is among those in a big group upfront.
➤➤ A season ago the Huskies defense allowed only 22.6 points and 357 total yards a game. They will be led in 2019 by
➤➤ Defensive Coordinator Derrick Jackson, who comes from Purdue, will try keep NIU at or near the top of MAC defenses. The Huskies (22.6 ppg) trailed only Eastern Michigan (22.1 ppg) in scoring defense.
➤➤ Their Huskies big question, as with Scharpring on offense, is how to replace two-rime MAC defensive Player of the Year Sutton Smith (now with the Pittsburgh Steelers).
➤➤ Among the returning parts is senior LB Antonio Jones-Davis, who led NIU in tackles with 130 (76 solo) with four sacks and two forced fumbles. Another senior, LB Kyle Pugh, registered 106 total stops (63 solo) last year, while senior S Mykleti Williams notched 75 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups.
➤➤ The NIU special teams has experience and youth. The experience is P Matt Ference. He averaged 40.4 yards per kick and dropped 32 kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. The inexperience is place kicking. As camp opened, redshirt freshman John Richardson was listed first on the depth chart.
➤➤ In his first spring practice, Hammock put a sticker -- “THE HARD WAY” -- at the bottom of the Huskies Helmets. The opening of 2019 will be part of a hard road for NIU under a first year head coach..
After opening with FCS opponent Illinois State Northern Illinois spends five of the next six weeks on the road, with stops at Utah, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, Ohio and Miami before finishing with three of five at Huskie Stadium.
Not many people had the Huskies winning the West a season ago. And so it is again in 2019, with the preseason media poll projecting NIU behind Toledo and Western Michigan. Given their history over the last decade, it’s hard to count the Huskies out. Despite the loss of some big-time playmakers, NIU is very capable of contending again.