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Northern Illinois won all the right games last year and that led to a MAC title game appearance after a four-way tie in first place of the West division. That said, the Huskies battled quarterback injuries and that ultimately derailed their season, losing the final three games, the last two by at least 20 points. Considering what they did last year with injuries, NIU will once again be near the top of the MAC West.
The offense was potent at its best in 2015, most notably in wins against Toledo and Western Michigan. But it still took time for them to get there after starting slow. The hope is that quarterback Drew Hare (14 TDs, 4 INTs) will be completely healthy after rupturing his Achilles last season. All signs point to him being ready for the opener and that's all this offense needs. At the least, his backups got some work last year even if they weren't ready. There shouldn't be a problem in the passing game with top wide out Kenny Golladay (73 receptions, 1,129 yards, 10 TDs) still there to go with Aregeros Turner (39 receptions).
But this offense is built upon its rushing game and that's where Joel Bouagnon (1,285 yards, 18 TDs) comes in. Those yardage numbers could've been higher, but there wasn't much he could do without an able quarterback at the end of the year. The Huskies also return Jordan Huff (653 yards, 8 TDs) in the backfield as well as Indiana transfer Tommy Mister.
The offensive line lost some studs, but they'll be just fine with three returning starters including senior left tackle Levon Myers and up-and-coming right tackle Max Scharping. This offense will be one of the best in the MAC yet again.
It was the defense that kind of faltered last year. While that went hand-in-hand with the offense struggling, there were still times when the Huskies gave up bunches of points (41 to Ball State). Of course, they only gave up 20 to Ohio State early in the year, so maybe some of that can be forgiven.
But like the offense, the defense also battled injuries that resulted in allowing 55 points to Boise State in the bowl game. The main guy that stands out amongst the defense is corner Shawun Lurry, who led the nation with nine interceptions. If he can somehow match that production, that would be something.
However, there aren't many playmakers outside of Lurry. At the least, they'll have experience to work with and that starts on the line. The two-deep is filtered with upperclassmen while linebacker should be set with a couple seniors leading the way in Sean Folliard and Jamaal Payton.
Once again, Northern Illinois scheduled a fairly difficult non-conference slate with South Florida and San Diego State highlighting that. Their MAC schedule isn't any easier with a road trip to Western Michigan in early October and then a back-to-back with Bowling Green and Toledo in early November. But as long as injuries aren't a problem, the Huskies will be in every game this season.
And that's exactly why NIU's over/under is set at 8.5 at 5Dimes with the over coming in at -195. The Huskies are even with Toledo with the second-best odds to win the MAC behind Western. Winning three non-conference games would be the key for them getting that over, but without quarterback injuries, this team could easily win all of their games. That's asking for a lot, but the schedule is workable and not out of the question if they reach last year's midseason levels.
2016 Northern Illinois Huskies Football Schedule
Sept. 3 at Wyoming
Sept. 10 at South Florida
Sept. 17 vs. San Diego State
Sept. 24 vs. Western Illinois
Oct. 1 at Ball State
Oct. 8 at Western Michigan
Oct. 15 vs. Central Michigan
Oct. 22 vs. Buffalo
Nov. 1 vs. Bowling Green
Nov. 9 vs. Toledo (U.S. Cellular Field)
Nov. 16 at Eastern Michigan
Nov. 25 at Kent State
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