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NIU007 Offline
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Post: #41
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
(07-09-2019 10:15 AM)NorthCoast Wrote:  
(07-09-2019 10:09 AM)NIU007 Wrote:  
(07-09-2019 10:05 AM)NorthCoast Wrote:  
(07-09-2019 08:35 AM)klake87 Wrote:  Based on previous year, current roster additions and coaching change, I am confident that NIU will be in the picture [should be the favorite (FIFY)] to win the MAC West and MAC Championship. Solid Defense and improving offense.

Yet, unsurprisingly, I'm pretty sure I've read in these "expert" previews predictions of Ohio, Toledo, and even Western Michigan winning the MAC this year but not a single prediction for DEFENDING MAC Champion NIU. Ha.

That seems to happen every year.

Hence the "unsurprisingly" at the beginning of that sentence.

Ha, I missed that, read it too quick. But you're right, the experts seem to like Toledo every year. Probably because they get higher rated QB/WR combos and they get all the hype.
07-09-2019 01:08 PM
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NILAW Offline
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Post: #42
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
Her's an article with Utah's (as well as BYU and Utah State) percentage chances to win each game this season, which gives NIU only a 5.4% chance of knocking off Utah.

https://www.deseretnews.com/article/9000...-in-5.html
07-09-2019 03:53 PM
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MiamiHuskie Offline
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Post: #43
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
(07-09-2019 03:53 PM)NILAW Wrote:  Her's an article with Utah's (as well as BYU and Utah State) percentage chances to win each game this season, which gives NIU only a 5.4% chance of knocking off Utah.

https://www.deseretnews.com/article/9000...-in-5.html

If Utah is ranked 8th or 9th we'll be at least 24 point dogs going into the game.
07-09-2019 04:56 PM
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NILAW Offline
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Post: #44
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
Here is a betting preview: https://www.thespread.com/ncaaf-articles...at-in-2019

The conclusion that "I would jump on the Huskies at 5/1, as they have history on their side" sounds like good advice.
07-10-2019 05:28 PM
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NILAW Offline
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Post: #45
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
Vanderbilt preview of the NIU game. https://www.anchorofgold.com/2019/7/12/2...is-huskies

The conclusion doesn't show much respect for our Huskies.
07-12-2019 01:57 PM
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NIU007 Offline
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Post: #46
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
(07-12-2019 01:57 PM)NILAW Wrote:  Vanderbilt preview of the NIU game. https://www.anchorofgold.com/2019/7/12/2...is-huskies

The conclusion doesn't show much respect for our Huskies.

None of the article shows much respect for the Huskies.
07-12-2019 02:18 PM
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NILAW Offline
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Post: #47
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
Our Huskies don't get much respect from Athlon Sports, which ranks us 91 out of 130 teams, and behind WMU (87), Turledo (83) and Ohio (72). https://athlonsports.com/college-footbal...kings-2019

A fairly consistent theme is whether the O can be turned around, and it starts at the QB position, with Athlon Sports listing Childers at 102 out of 130 starting QBs. https://athlonsports.com/college-footbal...kings-2019

That is a fair assessment; our 2018 O was bad - there just is not any other way to put it, and outside of the 2nd half of the MACC Childers was a fair runner and very poor passer. I have full faith in Hammock and the O coordinator to turn the O around, and make it at least respectable if not more!
07-12-2019 02:22 PM
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Post: #48
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
(07-12-2019 02:22 PM)NILAW Wrote:  Our Huskies don't get much respect from Athlon Sports, which ranks us 91 out of 130 teams, and behind WMU (87), Turledo (83) and Ohio (72). https://athlonsports.com/college-footbal...kings-2019

A fairly consistent theme is whether the O can be turned around, and it starts at the QB position, with Athlon Sports listing Childers at 102 out of 130 starting QBs. https://athlonsports.com/college-footbal...kings-2019

That is a fair assessment; our 2018 O was bad - there just is not any other way to put it, and outside of the 2nd half of the MACC Childers was a fair runner and very poor passer. I have full faith in Hammock and the O coordinator to turn the O around, and make it at least respectable if not more!

Yet, even with a piss-poor offense, we won the MACC over those teams listed ahead of us.
07-12-2019 02:34 PM
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NIU007 Offline
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Post: #49
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
(07-12-2019 02:34 PM)Dog Fan Wrote:  
(07-12-2019 02:22 PM)NILAW Wrote:  Our Huskies don't get much respect from Athlon Sports, which ranks us 91 out of 130 teams, and behind WMU (87), Turledo (83) and Ohio (72). https://athlonsports.com/college-footbal...kings-2019

A fairly consistent theme is whether the O can be turned around, and it starts at the QB position, with Athlon Sports listing Childers at 102 out of 130 starting QBs. https://athlonsports.com/college-footbal...kings-2019

That is a fair assessment; our 2018 O was bad - there just is not any other way to put it, and outside of the 2nd half of the MACC Childers was a fair runner and very poor passer. I have full faith in Hammock and the O coordinator to turn the O around, and make it at least respectable if not more!

Yet, even with a piss-poor offense, we won the MACC over those teams listed ahead of us.

Yea, other than finishing 3rd in the division, I believe, in 2016 and 2017, the Huskies have finished 1st in the division in every year going back to 2010. They go against the odds picking the Huskies 3rd. Or even 2nd.
07-12-2019 02:40 PM
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NILAW Offline
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Post: #50
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
(07-12-2019 02:34 PM)Dog Fan Wrote:  
(07-12-2019 02:22 PM)NILAW Wrote:  Our Huskies don't get much respect from Athlon Sports, which ranks us 91 out of 130 teams, and behind WMU (87), Turledo (83) and Ohio (72). https://athlonsports.com/college-footbal...kings-2019

A fairly consistent theme is whether the O can be turned around, and it starts at the QB position, with Athlon Sports listing Childers at 102 out of 130 starting QBs. https://athlonsports.com/college-footbal...kings-2019

That is a fair assessment; our 2018 O was bad - there just is not any other way to put it, and outside of the 2nd half of the MACC Childers was a fair runner and very poor passer. I have full faith in Hammock and the O coordinator to turn the O around, and make it at least respectable if not more!

Yet, even with a piss-poor offense, we won the MACC over those teams listed ahead of us.

Yep, but only because Childers had his best game of the year in the MACC.

I have gotten used to NIU being ranked behind Ohio and Turledo and at times WMU, and we all know that does not mean anything.

What I am so optimistic about for the 2019 O is Bowers being the starter. Do I think we will suddenly become a very good passing team? I think Bowers passing ability is way ahead of Childers and he will make the receivers better. Whether that translates into becoming a very good passing team remains to be seen. It is Bowers passing ability will make opposing defenses respect the pass. Let's face it, Childers' passing ability did not strike fear into any D. Despite this, we averaged 175 yards rushing per game, despite teams stacking the box. So, I see Bowers having a significant impact on the running game, in addition to the passing game.

Putting what I see as our non-piss poor O with our still strong D makes me very excited for the 2019 season!
07-12-2019 02:49 PM
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RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
State of the Program: After another MAC title, Northern Illinois enters new era with offense under pressure https://theathletic.com/1064202/2019/07/...pth-chart/

I could not read the whole article since I don't have a subscription. From the title, I am sure it is the same poor 2018 O and can Hammock and company turn the O around type of article. I stand by my optimism about our 2019 O, and I think other teams will be surprised by what they have to prepare for and defend against. I would add that without the 3 and outs that really was our expectations when the O took the field (rightfully so) will help the D also.
07-12-2019 03:38 PM
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Post: #52
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
(07-12-2019 03:38 PM)NILAW Wrote:  State of the Program: After another MAC title, Northern Illinois enters new era with offense under pressure https://theathletic.com/1064202/2019/07/...pth-chart/

I could not read the whole article since I don't have a subscription. From the title, I am sure it is the same poor 2018 O and can Hammock and company turn the O around type of article. I stand by my optimism about our 2019 O, and I think other teams will be surprised by what they have to prepare for and defend against. I would add that without the 3 and outs that really was our expectations when the O took the field (rightfully so) will help the D also.

It was a pretty in depth preview. In summary, writer was intrigued with new offense coordinator and what he could do with offense. Expects uptick for offense and a slight down tick for the defense. Says as long as one side of the ball doesn't have to carry the other side, we will be in contention for the title.
07-12-2019 04:10 PM
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machoman83 Offline
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RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
Here’s the full article from the athletic. Pretty nice job. Very in depth.

Editor’s note: Part of a continuing series examining the Power 5 and top Group of 5 teams for the 2019 college football season.

It is the dawn of a new day at Northern Illinois, one of the most consistently strong Group of 5 programs. The Huskies have made 10 bowl games in the past 11 seasons, a stretch that features three head coaches, plenty of explosive offensive playmakers and lots of stout defense.

Now comes another head coach, and he is one of their own. Thomas Hammock was an NIU running back under Joe Novak before his career was cut short. He entered the coaching ranks almost immediately, working his way up to the NFL before an unconventional series of events this winter aligned to bring him back home to lead his alma mater.

Hammock had just finished his fifth season as the Baltimore Ravens’ running backs coach when Temple — on its second coaching search in a month — hired Rod Carey away from the Huskies. Hammock was largely pegged as the front-runner from the minute the NIU job opened, and he delivered on those forecasts by winning over athletic director Sean Frazier and landing the job.

Hammock inherits a roster similar to the one that won the Mid-American Conference last season, which means that expectations will likely be high and the learning curve will likely be short. Carey won two MAC championships and four division crowns while at NIU, and his six seasons provided stability to a program that saw its previous two coaches leave after three years or fewer. But his teams’ poor bowl-game performances and the offense’s flatlining last season contributed to what always felt like a love-hate relationship between his regime and the fan base. A clean break for both sides was probably best after six years.

Now comes a fresh start, and the cupboard is far from bare as Hammock takes control.

“Defensively, I think our upperclassmen are guys that have experience, that have played in big games, so we’re gonna lean on those guys with their experience and leadership qualities,” Hammock said. “It’s something that at least early in the season, when we play the games that we have on our schedule, defensively I feel good about the strength of the upperclassmen.”

In keeping with its “Hard Way” ethos, NIU will rely on its defense and its run game to continue its championship pedigree. It is the only way the former Huskies running back would have it.

Biggest on-field question

Despite winning the MAC last season, NIU lost six games. Though three of those defeats came at the hands of Power 5 opponents, the Huskies even in several wins left a lot to be desired on offense. The numbers, laid bare: 124th nationally in total offense, 127th in yards per play, 121st in scoring, 116th in passing efficiency.

NIU scored seven or fewer points four times. That cannot happen again, and improvement starts with better play from both the quarterbacks and the receivers, something that Hammock did not sugarcoat when asked about the state of the skill guys.


New head coach Thomas Hammock is a former Huskies running back. (Courtesy of NIU Athletics)
“That’s certainly something in the spring that we had identified as an area that needs to improve,” Hammock said. “When you talk about the quarterback position, they gotta have guys that they can throw to and rely upon. So what I would explain to our freshmen is, there’s an opportunity to come in and compete. I think the skill positions are positions that young guys can come in and make big contributions, along with the guys in the program.

“I think we got some young guys that are gonna have a chance to develop and compete early, and we’ll come out with the four to five best wide receivers, and then come out with the three to four best running backs, come out with the best two to three tight ends that give us the best chance to have explosive plays along with the ability to be sound fundamentally and execute offensively.”

Marcus Childers is back at quarterback, although not without some competition. And the running backs — despite NIU faring just 70th nationally in rushing last season — are talented and have the chance to take a lot of the pressure off the passing game.

As for those freshmen who could make a difference? Look no further than this rookie receiving class of Fabian McCray, Mohamed Toure, Michael Love and Messiah Travis, the first three of whom were three-star signees.

Love, the brother of recent Giants draft pick Julian Love, is worth keeping an eye on, as the speedster lined up all over the field while at Nazareth (Ill.) High.

Depth chart analysis

Quarterbacks: Marcus Childers returns as a two-year starter who enters his redshirt junior campaign as a career 58 percent passer with 3,849 passing yards and 1,004 rushing yards to his name. He has thrown for 31 touchdowns against 15 interceptions and has added 11 more scores on the ground. However, he finished last (10th) among qualified players in the MAC in yards per attempt (5.5) last season and was outside the top 100 nationally in passing efficiency.

Childers’ coming-of-age moment was in the MAC title game, when he was named offensive MVP after throwing for a career-best 300 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 58 rushing yards in leading the Huskies back from a 19-point second-half deficit. He could have some competition in the form of Cal grad transfer Ross Bowers, who is immediately eligible and has two years remaining. Bowers, more of a pocket passer, threw for 3,039 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as Cal’s starter in 2017 but lost the job and attempted only 17 passes last year.

The overall depth here should be better after Childers barely came off the field last season. Fellow redshirt junior Anthony Thompson saw brief action the past two years as a reserve. NIU signed three-star dual-threat quarterback Mariano Valenti from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the 2019 cycle.

Running backs: Tre Harbison, who originally signed with Virginia, returns for his redshirt junior season, and he will try to top a second-team All-MAC campaign in which he tallied 1,034 yards and five touchdowns, becoming NIU’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2015. Redshirt senior Marcus Jones (527 yards, four touchdowns last year) and redshirt sophomore Jordan Nettles (217 yards) are back behind Harbison. Harbison is a bigger back at 5-foot-11, 227 pounds, while Jones is 5-8, 199 pounds, and Nettles is 5-9, 181 pounds.

Beyond those three, depth is shaky after a pair of transfers: The Huskies have just two other running backs on the roster, and both are walk-ons (redshirt freshman Rahveon Valentine and true freshman Rondarius Gregory). Childers, the quarterback, finished as NIU’s second-leading rusher last season.


Tre Harbison rushed for 1,034 yards and five TDs as a sophomore. (Chris Nicoll / USA Today)
Wide receivers/tight ends: This unit is probably as open as it gets on the roster, which should be a good thing for a Huskies offense that struggled to make big plays in the passing game.

Both of the top pass catchers from last season are gone, although redshirt senior Spencer Tears (40 catches, 422 yards) is back and trying to build off his huge performance in the MAC title game, when he caught two touchdowns. Redshirt sophomores Cole Tucker (18 catches, 156 yards) and Dennis Robinson (15 catches, 139 yards, one touchdown) are back, too. Aside from that, NIU will be relying mostly on newcomers.

Former quarterback Rodney Hall, now in his redshirt freshman season, has moved to receiver. The Huskies signed six receivers this past cycle, with Chicago product Fabian McCray entering as the program’s highest-rated 2019 recruit. Fellow freshman Michael Love is a jack of all trades who will get his first college chance at receiver.

Redshirt junior Mitchell Brinkman caught passes for 79 yards last season as NIU’s second tight end, starting four games.

Offensive line: Three full-time starters and one part-time starter are back up front, which is a good starting point for any new regime, let alone one coached by a former running back. Hammock said the group was hampered by injuries all spring and that the line situation is still fluid going into camp, but he would like to have nine or 10 guys ready to go at all times.

Senior Christopher Perez started 11 games at left guard last season, while redshirt senior Nathan Veloz started nine at right guard, after starting all 13 contests in 2017. Brayden Patton, a redshirt junior, relieved both last season, with eight total starts at guard. Jordan Steckler, a fifth-year senior, started 10 games at right tackle last season after making the switch from left guard. NIU added Sacred Heart grad transfer tackle Andrew Starr, who was a three-year starter for the Pioneers.

Replacing All-MAC performers at left tackle (Max Scharping) and center (Luke Shively) will not be easy, but there are enough capable bodies here to at least calm the nerves of the staff early on.



Click here to enlarge

Defensive line: Let’s start with the positives: NIU returns virtually all of its production inside, as senior Ben LeRoy, junior Weston Kramer, redshirt junior Marcus Kelly and redshirt junior Jack Heflin all started games last season, with LeRoy and Kramer serving as the primary starters.

LeRoy is going on his third year of starting, having posted 10 career TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Kramer has added seven career TFLs (2.5 sacks) and two pass breakups, while Heflin earned third-team All-MAC honors despite starting just four games last season, as he tallied six sacks.

Now for the negatives, or at least the question marks: Gone are Sutton Smith and Josh Corcoran on the outside, which means there is a lot of production to be made up this season. Smith was a generational player in the MAC, becoming the first two-time first-team All-American in NIU history. Together, the two amassed 86 career TFLs (46.5 sacks), one pick, five pass breakups, eight forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. Smith was drafted by the Steelers, and Corcoran signed with the Chargers.

The onus to replace the duo will likely fall on redshirt senior Quintin Wynne (7.5 tackles for loss last season) and junior Matt Lorbeck (6.5). Though it would be unreasonable to expect them to match their predecessors’ production, they more than did their part in mostly reserve action last season and should transition smoothly to bigger roles.

Redshirt sophomore Michael Kennedy and sophomore Cortez Hogans should see their workload increase, as well. (Hogans was listed as a linebacker last season but is expected to see more time at end.)

Linebackers: This has to be the strength of the defense, as NIU returns all three starters from 2018. Redshirt senior Antonio Jones-Davis was named first-team All-MAC after leading the Huskies in tackles (130) and finishing second in TFLs (14.5). Middle linebacker Kyle Pugh, a redshirt senior, was named second-team all-league, finishing second on the team in tackles (106). Lance Deveaux Jr., a senior, notched 67 tackles last season, including five behind the line of scrimmage (two sacks).

Redshirt sophomores Vinny Labus and Jordan Cole both saw action in every game last season and showed flashes, with Labus picking off one pass and forcing one fumble, and Cole forcing two fumbles.


Antonio Jones-Davis finished fourth in the MAC in tackles in 2018. (Chris Nicoll / USA Today)
Defensive backs: Much like up front, this is a good news, bad news situation as it relates to who is coming back, with the safeties bearing the good news.

The safeties are all back, led by redshirt senior starters Mykelti Williams and Trayshon Foster. Williams earned second-team All-MAC honors last season after notching 75 stops (3.5 for loss), two picks and three pass breakups. Foster missed two games because of injury but had an interception, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Redshirt senior Trequan Smith is back after starting three games.

The Huskies are young and thin at corner, as they lose primary starters Jalen Embry and Tifonte Hunt. They do return three sophomores who started at least one game last season: Jalen McKie, Devin Haney and Antwain Walker. The problem? Those three are the only returning players presently listed as cornerbacks on the roster, along with three freshmen. Hammock pegged Romel Goston as one of the rookie corners who will have a chance early.

Sophomore defensive back Zhamaine March saw reserve action last season as a freshman.

Special teams: Junior punter Matt Ference is back for his third year as a starter, looking to best his averages of 41.2 (’17) and 40.1 (’18) yards per attempt. Redshirt freshman kicker John Richardson figures to have the inside track to replace Andrew Gantz, although freshman Jimmy Lowery arrives this summer.

Cole Tucker, a receiver, returned punts last season but averaged just 4.1 yards per return. And NIU has virtually no one on the roster with any kick return experience after Fotis Kokosioulis transferred to Fordham this summer.

How the Huskies have recruited from 2016 to 2019

Using 247Sports’ Composite rankings, here is how Northern Illinois’ recruiting classes have fared nationally and within the MAC over the past four years:



Click here to enlarge

NIU considers itself a developmental program, and with seven division titles in the past nine years, the Huskies have easily surpassed their recruiting rankings on the field within the MAC.

By the time Hammock came aboard, 16 prep seniors had already signed with the Huskies, with three more inking on the second signing date once the new staff was in place. NIU has never signed a four-star recruit since internet rankings began. Then again, Garrett Wolfe signed as a two-star prospect under Novak and led the nation in rushing. Jordan Lynch signed as a three-star prospect under Jerry Kill, then led NIU to the Orange Bowl under Dave Doeren, then finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting under Carey. And Sutton Smith signed with Carey as a three-star prospect before becoming one of the best players in the country.

“We take a lot of pride in developing players,” Hammock said. “Sometimes when you are a developmental program, you look for traits that can be developed: size, length, athleticism, things that you can’t coach. A guy may be 10-15 pounds too light; you gotta put weight on him and develop him as a player, so that’s certainly something.

“The way that we’re gonna go with our program, I’ve been around programs where guys are looking at stars and trying to recruit to a star ranking. We’re certainly not looking to do that. We’re looking to find players that fit what we’re looking to do, that have the size, length and athleticism to develop in our program. I think we have an excellent strength coach who’s gonna get them right in the weight room. We have excellent coaches that are gonna get them right on the football field. And that’s how we’re gonna recruit.”



Impact of coaching changes

Hammock’s first hire could prove to be his most important one, at least in the short term: The addition of former South Dakota State offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness should inject life into the Huskies on that side of the ball. The Jackrabbits made seven consecutive FCS playoff appearances during Eidsness’ time, and they averaged 42.5 points per game last season.

Hammock has put together an interesting mix of guys from all over the football world. Atif Austin joins the staff after serving as the Patriots’ assistant running backs coach during their Super Bowl campaign last season. Receivers coach Houston Jones comes from Division II Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn., where he served as passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Six of Hammock’s hires have either worked or played with him in the past, with Austin, Jones and cornerbacks coach Aaron Wilkins serving as the outliers.

Defensive coordinator Derrick Jackson is the most seasoned of the bunch, having held full-time assistant positions for four Power 5 programs, most recently as Purdue’s corners coach last season. Strength coach Ryan Napoli comes from Southeast Missouri, after spending six years on the strength staff of FCS superpower North Dakota State.

Schedule analysis



Click here to enlarge

Well, at least it’s not as tough as last year’s schedule. NIU does still get three road Power 5 games in three consecutive weeks — at Utah, at Nebraska, at Vanderbilt — though, after opening Aug. 31 against an FCS team, Illinois State. NIU calls the Power 5 matchups “Boneyard” games, and with 15 such victories to their name, the Huskies have helped establish their brand nationally.

NIU gets nine consecutive Saturday games to open the season before an open date, and then #MACtion kicks in with three consecutive midweek games. Its East crossover games include consecutive road trips to a pair of programs that went 6-2 in league play last season (Ohio and Miami), in addition to hosting Akron and first-year coach Tom Arth.

The kicker, though: NIU gets just five home games this season, and seven on the road. That is tough to handle for a new coach looking to generate excitement among his constituency.

Final assessment

The offense cannot get worse. The defense cannot get better. Simple enough, right?

Probably too simple. If Eidsness can work the same kind of magic that he did with the Jackrabbits — and if a few of those freshman wideouts step up — then the Huskies have a chance to repeat as MAC champs. That has become the standard in DeKalb, and there is no reason that this season should be any different, new coach or not.

The defense should still be really good, even after losing Smith. If the offense struggles much the way it did last year, though, anything less than elite play from the D could spell trouble, especially with that uneven schedule. Remember, six of NIU’s eight wins came by one possession or fewer. The margin for error is that thin if one unit is asked to carry too much weight.
07-12-2019 07:37 PM
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BDB5yp Offline
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Post: #54
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
(07-12-2019 07:37 PM)machoman83 Wrote:  Here’s the full article from the athletic. Pretty nice job. Very in depth.

Editor’s note: Part of a continuing series examining the Power 5 and top Group of 5 teams for the 2019 college football season.

It is the dawn of a new day at Northern Illinois, one of the most consistently strong Group of 5 programs. The Huskies have made 10 bowl games in the past 11 seasons, a stretch that features three head coaches, plenty of explosive offensive playmakers and lots of stout defense.

Now comes another head coach, and he is one of their own. Thomas Hammock was an NIU running back under Joe Novak before his career was cut short. He entered the coaching ranks almost immediately, working his way up to the NFL before an unconventional series of events this winter aligned to bring him back home to lead his alma mater.

Hammock had just finished his fifth season as the Baltimore Ravens’ running backs coach when Temple — on its second coaching search in a month — hired Rod Carey away from the Huskies. Hammock was largely pegged as the front-runner from the minute the NIU job opened, and he delivered on those forecasts by winning over athletic director Sean Frazier and landing the job.

Hammock inherits a roster similar to the one that won the Mid-American Conference last season, which means that expectations will likely be high and the learning curve will likely be short. Carey won two MAC championships and four division crowns while at NIU, and his six seasons provided stability to a program that saw its previous two coaches leave after three years or fewer. But his teams’ poor bowl-game performances and the offense’s flatlining last season contributed to what always felt like a love-hate relationship between his regime and the fan base. A clean break for both sides was probably best after six years.

Now comes a fresh start, and the cupboard is far from bare as Hammock takes control.

“Defensively, I think our upperclassmen are guys that have experience, that have played in big games, so we’re gonna lean on those guys with their experience and leadership qualities,” Hammock said. “It’s something that at least early in the season, when we play the games that we have on our schedule, defensively I feel good about the strength of the upperclassmen.”

In keeping with its “Hard Way” ethos, NIU will rely on its defense and its run game to continue its championship pedigree. It is the only way the former Huskies running back would have it.

Biggest on-field question

Despite winning the MAC last season, NIU lost six games. Though three of those defeats came at the hands of Power 5 opponents, the Huskies even in several wins left a lot to be desired on offense. The numbers, laid bare: 124th nationally in total offense, 127th in yards per play, 121st in scoring, 116th in passing efficiency.

NIU scored seven or fewer points four times. That cannot happen again, and improvement starts with better play from both the quarterbacks and the receivers, something that Hammock did not sugarcoat when asked about the state of the skill guys.


New head coach Thomas Hammock is a former Huskies running back. (Courtesy of NIU Athletics)
“That’s certainly something in the spring that we had identified as an area that needs to improve,” Hammock said. “When you talk about the quarterback position, they gotta have guys that they can throw to and rely upon. So what I would explain to our freshmen is, there’s an opportunity to come in and compete. I think the skill positions are positions that young guys can come in and make big contributions, along with the guys in the program.

“I think we got some young guys that are gonna have a chance to develop and compete early, and we’ll come out with the four to five best wide receivers, and then come out with the three to four best running backs, come out with the best two to three tight ends that give us the best chance to have explosive plays along with the ability to be sound fundamentally and execute offensively.”

Marcus Childers is back at quarterback, although not without some competition. And the running backs — despite NIU faring just 70th nationally in rushing last season — are talented and have the chance to take a lot of the pressure off the passing game.

As for those freshmen who could make a difference? Look no further than this rookie receiving class of Fabian McCray, Mohamed Toure, Michael Love and Messiah Travis, the first three of whom were three-star signees.

Love, the brother of recent Giants draft pick Julian Love, is worth keeping an eye on, as the speedster lined up all over the field while at Nazareth (Ill.) High.

Depth chart analysis

Quarterbacks: Marcus Childers returns as a two-year starter who enters his redshirt junior campaign as a career 58 percent passer with 3,849 passing yards and 1,004 rushing yards to his name. He has thrown for 31 touchdowns against 15 interceptions and has added 11 more scores on the ground. However, he finished last (10th) among qualified players in the MAC in yards per attempt (5.5) last season and was outside the top 100 nationally in passing efficiency.

Childers’ coming-of-age moment was in the MAC title game, when he was named offensive MVP after throwing for a career-best 300 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 58 rushing yards in leading the Huskies back from a 19-point second-half deficit. He could have some competition in the form of Cal grad transfer Ross Bowers, who is immediately eligible and has two years remaining. Bowers, more of a pocket passer, threw for 3,039 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as Cal’s starter in 2017 but lost the job and attempted only 17 passes last year.

The overall depth here should be better after Childers barely came off the field last season. Fellow redshirt junior Anthony Thompson saw brief action the past two years as a reserve. NIU signed three-star dual-threat quarterback Mariano Valenti from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the 2019 cycle.

Running backs: Tre Harbison, who originally signed with Virginia, returns for his redshirt junior season, and he will try to top a second-team All-MAC campaign in which he tallied 1,034 yards and five touchdowns, becoming NIU’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2015. Redshirt senior Marcus Jones (527 yards, four touchdowns last year) and redshirt sophomore Jordan Nettles (217 yards) are back behind Harbison. Harbison is a bigger back at 5-foot-11, 227 pounds, while Jones is 5-8, 199 pounds, and Nettles is 5-9, 181 pounds.

Beyond those three, depth is shaky after a pair of transfers: The Huskies have just two other running backs on the roster, and both are walk-ons (redshirt freshman Rahveon Valentine and true freshman Rondarius Gregory). Childers, the quarterback, finished as NIU’s second-leading rusher last season.


Tre Harbison rushed for 1,034 yards and five TDs as a sophomore. (Chris Nicoll / USA Today)
Wide receivers/tight ends: This unit is probably as open as it gets on the roster, which should be a good thing for a Huskies offense that struggled to make big plays in the passing game.

Both of the top pass catchers from last season are gone, although redshirt senior Spencer Tears (40 catches, 422 yards) is back and trying to build off his huge performance in the MAC title game, when he caught two touchdowns. Redshirt sophomores Cole Tucker (18 catches, 156 yards) and Dennis Robinson (15 catches, 139 yards, one touchdown) are back, too. Aside from that, NIU will be relying mostly on newcomers.

Former quarterback Rodney Hall, now in his redshirt freshman season, has moved to receiver. The Huskies signed six receivers this past cycle, with Chicago product Fabian McCray entering as the program’s highest-rated 2019 recruit. Fellow freshman Michael Love is a jack of all trades who will get his first college chance at receiver.

Redshirt junior Mitchell Brinkman caught passes for 79 yards last season as NIU’s second tight end, starting four games.

Offensive line: Three full-time starters and one part-time starter are back up front, which is a good starting point for any new regime, let alone one coached by a former running back. Hammock said the group was hampered by injuries all spring and that the line situation is still fluid going into camp, but he would like to have nine or 10 guys ready to go at all times.

Senior Christopher Perez started 11 games at left guard last season, while redshirt senior Nathan Veloz started nine at right guard, after starting all 13 contests in 2017. Brayden Patton, a redshirt junior, relieved both last season, with eight total starts at guard. Jordan Steckler, a fifth-year senior, started 10 games at right tackle last season after making the switch from left guard. NIU added Sacred Heart grad transfer tackle Andrew Starr, who was a three-year starter for the Pioneers.

Replacing All-MAC performers at left tackle (Max Scharping) and center (Luke Shively) will not be easy, but there are enough capable bodies here to at least calm the nerves of the staff early on.



Click here to enlarge

Defensive line: Let’s start with the positives: NIU returns virtually all of its production inside, as senior Ben LeRoy, junior Weston Kramer, redshirt junior Marcus Kelly and redshirt junior Jack Heflin all started games last season, with LeRoy and Kramer serving as the primary starters.

LeRoy is going on his third year of starting, having posted 10 career TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Kramer has added seven career TFLs (2.5 sacks) and two pass breakups, while Heflin earned third-team All-MAC honors despite starting just four games last season, as he tallied six sacks.

Now for the negatives, or at least the question marks: Gone are Sutton Smith and Josh Corcoran on the outside, which means there is a lot of production to be made up this season. Smith was a generational player in the MAC, becoming the first two-time first-team All-American in NIU history. Together, the two amassed 86 career TFLs (46.5 sacks), one pick, five pass breakups, eight forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. Smith was drafted by the Steelers, and Corcoran signed with the Chargers.

The onus to replace the duo will likely fall on redshirt senior Quintin Wynne (7.5 tackles for loss last season) and junior Matt Lorbeck (6.5). Though it would be unreasonable to expect them to match their predecessors’ production, they more than did their part in mostly reserve action last season and should transition smoothly to bigger roles.

Redshirt sophomore Michael Kennedy and sophomore Cortez Hogans should see their workload increase, as well. (Hogans was listed as a linebacker last season but is expected to see more time at end.)

Linebackers: This has to be the strength of the defense, as NIU returns all three starters from 2018. Redshirt senior Antonio Jones-Davis was named first-team All-MAC after leading the Huskies in tackles (130) and finishing second in TFLs (14.5). Middle linebacker Kyle Pugh, a redshirt senior, was named second-team all-league, finishing second on the team in tackles (106). Lance Deveaux Jr., a senior, notched 67 tackles last season, including five behind the line of scrimmage (two sacks).

Redshirt sophomores Vinny Labus and Jordan Cole both saw action in every game last season and showed flashes, with Labus picking off one pass and forcing one fumble, and Cole forcing two fumbles.


Antonio Jones-Davis finished fourth in the MAC in tackles in 2018. (Chris Nicoll / USA Today)
Defensive backs: Much like up front, this is a good news, bad news situation as it relates to who is coming back, with the safeties bearing the good news.

The safeties are all back, led by redshirt senior starters Mykelti Williams and Trayshon Foster. Williams earned second-team All-MAC honors last season after notching 75 stops (3.5 for loss), two picks and three pass breakups. Foster missed two games because of injury but had an interception, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Redshirt senior Trequan Smith is back after starting three games.

The Huskies are young and thin at corner, as they lose primary starters Jalen Embry and Tifonte Hunt. They do return three sophomores who started at least one game last season: Jalen McKie, Devin Haney and Antwain Walker. The problem? Those three are the only returning players presently listed as cornerbacks on the roster, along with three freshmen. Hammock pegged Romel Goston as one of the rookie corners who will have a chance early.

Sophomore defensive back Zhamaine March saw reserve action last season as a freshman.

Special teams: Junior punter Matt Ference is back for his third year as a starter, looking to best his averages of 41.2 (’17) and 40.1 (’18) yards per attempt. Redshirt freshman kicker John Richardson figures to have the inside track to replace Andrew Gantz, although freshman Jimmy Lowery arrives this summer.

Cole Tucker, a receiver, returned punts last season but averaged just 4.1 yards per return. And NIU has virtually no one on the roster with any kick return experience after Fotis Kokosioulis transferred to Fordham this summer.

How the Huskies have recruited from 2016 to 2019

Using 247Sports’ Composite rankings, here is how Northern Illinois’ recruiting classes have fared nationally and within the MAC over the past four years:



Click here to enlarge

NIU considers itself a developmental program, and with seven division titles in the past nine years, the Huskies have easily surpassed their recruiting rankings on the field within the MAC.

By the time Hammock came aboard, 16 prep seniors had already signed with the Huskies, with three more inking on the second signing date once the new staff was in place. NIU has never signed a four-star recruit since internet rankings began. Then again, Garrett Wolfe signed as a two-star prospect under Novak and led the nation in rushing. Jordan Lynch signed as a three-star prospect under Jerry Kill, then led NIU to the Orange Bowl under Dave Doeren, then finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting under Carey. And Sutton Smith signed with Carey as a three-star prospect before becoming one of the best players in the country.

“We take a lot of pride in developing players,” Hammock said. “Sometimes when you are a developmental program, you look for traits that can be developed: size, length, athleticism, things that you can’t coach. A guy may be 10-15 pounds too light; you gotta put weight on him and develop him as a player, so that’s certainly something.

“The way that we’re gonna go with our program, I’ve been around programs where guys are looking at stars and trying to recruit to a star ranking. We’re certainly not looking to do that. We’re looking to find players that fit what we’re looking to do, that have the size, length and athleticism to develop in our program. I think we have an excellent strength coach who’s gonna get them right in the weight room. We have excellent coaches that are gonna get them right on the football field. And that’s how we’re gonna recruit.”



Impact of coaching changes

Hammock’s first hire could prove to be his most important one, at least in the short term: The addition of former South Dakota State offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness should inject life into the Huskies on that side of the ball. The Jackrabbits made seven consecutive FCS playoff appearances during Eidsness’ time, and they averaged 42.5 points per game last season.

Hammock has put together an interesting mix of guys from all over the football world. Atif Austin joins the staff after serving as the Patriots’ assistant running backs coach during their Super Bowl campaign last season. Receivers coach Houston Jones comes from Division II Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn., where he served as passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Six of Hammock’s hires have either worked or played with him in the past, with Austin, Jones and cornerbacks coach Aaron Wilkins serving as the outliers.

Defensive coordinator Derrick Jackson is the most seasoned of the bunch, having held full-time assistant positions for four Power 5 programs, most recently as Purdue’s corners coach last season. Strength coach Ryan Napoli comes from Southeast Missouri, after spending six years on the strength staff of FCS superpower North Dakota State.

Schedule analysis



Click here to enlarge

Well, at least it’s not as tough as last year’s schedule. NIU does still get three road Power 5 games in three consecutive weeks — at Utah, at Nebraska, at Vanderbilt — though, after opening Aug. 31 against an FCS team, Illinois State. NIU calls the Power 5 matchups “Boneyard” games, and with 15 such victories to their name, the Huskies have helped establish their brand nationally.

NIU gets nine consecutive Saturday games to open the season before an open date, and then #MACtion kicks in with three consecutive midweek games. Its East crossover games include consecutive road trips to a pair of programs that went 6-2 in league play last season (Ohio and Miami), in addition to hosting Akron and first-year coach Tom Arth.

The kicker, though: NIU gets just five home games this season, and seven on the road. That is tough to handle for a new coach looking to generate excitement among his constituency.

Final assessment

The offense cannot get worse. The defense cannot get better. Simple enough, right?

Probably too simple. If Eidsness can work the same kind of magic that he did with the Jackrabbits — and if a few of those freshman wideouts step up — then the Huskies have a chance to repeat as MAC champs. That has become the standard in DeKalb, and there is no reason that this season should be any different, new coach or not.

The defense should still be really good, even after losing Smith. If the offense struggles much the way it did last year, though, anything less than elite play from the D could spell trouble, especially with that uneven schedule. Remember, six of NIU’s eight wins came by one possession or fewer. The margin for error is that thin if one unit is asked to carry too much weight.

Great article. Sounds like this guy knows NIU!!!
07-12-2019 09:43 PM
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DiehardHuskie Offline
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Post: #55
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
Thanks for posting. Excellent write up.

50 days, boys....
07-12-2019 10:04 PM
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NILAW Offline
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Post: #56
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
Hustle Belt Preview: https://www.hustlebelt.com/niu-huskies/2...on-preview

I love the optimism!
07-14-2019 02:14 PM
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pvk75 Offline
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Post: #57
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
Nice recruiting write-up from 247sports. Dated 7/16.

https://247sports.com/Article/Northern-I...133679454/
07-16-2019 12:06 AM
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thxjoenovak Offline
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RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
(07-16-2019 12:06 AM)pvk75 Wrote:  Nice recruiting write-up from 247sports. Dated 7/16.

https://247sports.com/Article/Northern-I...133679454/

Great write-up.
And that Dustin Fletcher highlight reel...04-jawdrop
Thanks for posting.
07-16-2019 06:54 AM
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NILAW Offline
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Post: #59
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
NIU storylines from Hustle Belt: https://www.hustlebelt.com/niu-huskies/2...is-huskies[/i]
07-16-2019 09:13 AM
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NILAW Offline
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Post: #60
RE: 2019 Huskies Previews & More
Here is the state of the program, the last part of the Hustle Belt season preview they seem to be doing for each team.

https://www.hustlebelt.com/niu-huskies/2...is-huskies

I completely agree with the big-time optimism about Hammock!
07-16-2019 04:07 PM
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