By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: There are always inconsistencies during a football season, but for the 2009 Huskies they definitely emulated a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality.
The Huskies opened the year with a tough, 28-20 setback to Wisconsin on the
road, but rebounded with a convincing 41-7 decision over Western Illinois, and
followed that with an impressive 28-21 victory over Purdue on the road. The
momentum from the Purdue win did not carry over for the Huskies however, as
the team stumbled in its next contest, losing to Idaho, 34-31 at home. After a
win over Western Michigan and a loss to Toledo the Huskies sat at 3-3, but at
that point coach Jerry Kill's squad turned up their play and went on an
impressive four-game win streak that began with a thrilling, 27-22 victory
over Miami-Ohio. Following the win over the RedHawks, the Huskies pounded
Akron (27-10) and Eastern Michigan (50-6) before slipping past Ball State
(26-20). Northern Illinois could not keep the strong play going however, and
proceeded to drop its last two regular season games on the road against Ohio
and Central Michigan.
Despite the late slide the Huskies finished 7-6 overall and earned a spot in
the International Bowl where they took on South Florida. It was not in the
cards for the Huskies to close their year out with a victory, as the Bulls
took it to the team from DeKalb, winning by a 27-3 margin, sending coach
Kill's team into the off-season with a three-game losing skid.
OFFENSE: The Huskies relied on their bruising run game last season to vault
them into the top tier of teams in the Mid-American Conference. Coach Kill's
gang led the MAC with 195.2 ypg on the ground, and with three starting linemen
returning, along with running back Chad Spann, it is likely NIU will continue
to run in 2010. Spann was key to the Huskies' success last season, rushing for
just over 1,000 yards, while also scoring 19 times. The big question mark for
this year's squad will be the health of quarterback Chandler Harnish, who has
dealt with injuries throughout his career and even comes into this season with
a problem with his knee. If Harnish is not able to open the year under center
look for DeMarcus Grady, who has some starting experience to lead the Huskies
"At Quarterback with Chandler's situation being able to play that gives us a
tremendous amount of depth at the position," said coach Kill. "I talked to
them yesterday about finding that person who is going to be durable and
Regardless of who is the signal caller this season that player will have a
legit target in Landon Cox. Cox is the only real receiver with experience on
the roster, but he has the talent to be one of the best in the conference.
"At receiver, Landon Cox is the most underrated player in our conference
without a doubt," coach Kill stated. "I have said that all along. He is a
great football player, he gives up a lot for the team. He is a great blocker
and a good receiver. He does a lot for our football team. He is surrounded by
a lot of young receivers and a lot of talent. We are very skilled there and
DEFENSE: The Huskies' ground game wore out opposing defenses, but maybe just
as important, it also gave their defense plenty of time to rest, keeping them
fresh throughout each game, which is probably why NIU led the MAC with just
330.3 yards allowed per matchup. In 2008 Larry English led the front line for
NIU, and last year the defense was led by another end in Jake Coffman, but he
is now gone, living a big hole up front. However, coach Kill feels Sean Progar
is ready to be the leader on the line for NIU, and along with tackles Brian
Lawson and D.J. Pirkle this could be another solid group of linemen for the
"I think you have to look at the depth of the defensive line and athleticism.
There is no question that we can go two- to three-deep in there," said coach
Kill. "So if you do not compete you can end up on the sideline because we have
However, the Huskies are not as fortunate at the linebacker position. Alex
Kube is back for his senior season, but the loss of Pat Schiller due to a knee
injury makes this unit a bit raw and inexperienced.
"Our linebackers are a little bit thin, but the quality of our linebackers is
good," coach Kill stated. "We lost a little bit of depth with Pat Schiller's
injury. A freshmen or two are going to have to step up until he comes back."
All four starters in the defensive backfield return for 2010, including the
safety tandem of Tracy Wilson and Mike Sobol. Wilson, who racked up 93 tackles
a year ago, is a gritty leader that can also contribute against the run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The biggest loss for this unit will be kicker Mike Salerno, but
the hope is that one of the freshmen, either Matthew Sims or Tyler Anderson
can fill in admirably. On the flip side, the Huskies do return kick and punt
returner Tommy Davis. Davis was electrifying in his first year and could
become one of the most dangerous special team players in the conference this
OUTLOOK: If the Huskies are going to push for their third straight bowl game
they will need to become a strong road team because seven of their matchups
this season occur outside of DeKalb. In fact, four of the team's first five
games are away and three of those contest are against Iowa State, Illinois and
"If you are playing good people, you are going to get better," said coach
Kill. "You are going to know where you're at. When we go to Iowa State, we are
going to know where we are at. Win lose or draw where are going to know where
we are at. Then, we build from that and you build each week. The bottom line
is that when you play at home, you cannot lose at home. I am a firm believer
in that. If we didn't lose at home last year, we are in a different situation.
You have to win at home."
However, winning at home will not be very easy for the Huskies, who host tough
conference opponents in Buffalo, Central Michigan and Temple. Injuries have
already played a role in the Huskies season, but if they can remain healthy
from here on out, than they are likely looking at another bowl berth, and
possibly a chance to play for the MAC title.