#49 Northern Illinois 2018 Football Preview

Northern Illinois Huskies
Overall Rank: #49
#1 Mid-American
 Northern Illinois Logo
Northern Illinois rebounded in 2017 following a very disappointing 2016 season. The Huskies boosted their win total to a more familiar eight and went 6-2 in MAC play. This group did lose their last two games though, the regular season finale at Central Michigan and the Quick Lane Bowl against Duke.
2017 Record: 8-5, 6-2
2017 Bowl: Quick Lane Bowl vs. Duke (L 14-36)
Coach: Ron Carey (44-24 at Northern Illinois, 44-24 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Uremovich
Defensive Coordinator: Jeff Knowles
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Marcus Childers, QB, 473 yards
Passing: Marcus Childers, QB, 1,674 yards
Receiving: Spencer Tears, WR, 528 yards
Tackles: Mykelti Williams, S, 73
Sacks: Sutton Smith, DE, 14.0
Interceptions: 4 tied with 1
Other Key Returnees: RB Marcus Jones, RB Tre Harbison, WR DJ Brown, OL Jordab Steckler, OL Max Scharping, DT Ben Leroy, CB Albert Smalls
Key Losses: RB Jordan Huff, WR Christian Blake, WR Chad Beebe, LB Bobby Jones, CB Shawun Lurry, LB Jawuan Johnson
Northern Illinois’ recent inconsistencies stems from their inability to find stability at quarterback. That should not be a concern anymore. Marcus Childers grabbed the quarterback duties last year when he threw for 1,674 yards and 16 touchdowns and added 473 yards and five more scores on the ground. That was enough to earn him MAC Freshman of the Year accolades. His ability to run and pass adds a much needed dynamic to this offense. Childers has receivers Spencer Tears and D.J. Brown to help him develop into a more dynamic passing threat. Running back Jordan Huff is gone, but both Marcus Jones and Tre Harbison have experience. Those two rushed for 640 yards and six touchdowns between them and both should see those numbers increase behind a strong offensive line.
While the offense was retooling last year, the defense really stepped up. They ranked first in the MAC in both total defense and scoring defense. Now the job will be to keep it up. And that should not be a problem thanks to the return of Sutton Smith. The defensive end tallied 14.0 sacks as a sophomore. With double teams coming his way, the rest of the line, led by Ben LeRoy and Josh Corcoran, needs to take advantage of the space they should have. There are big questions at linebacker with all three starters gone, but the return of Kyle Pugh from injury gives the unit something to work around. The secondary could be much better in 2018 with senior cornerbacks Jalen Embry and Albert Smalls leading the way. Safety Mykelti Williams is the team’s top returning tackler with 73.
The Bottom Line:
This could be a big year for Northern Illinois, but the schedule is brutal. The Huskies start the season with a trip to Iowa before hosting Utah the following week. After hosting Central Michigan in their MAC opener, NIU heads to the Florida State. The next two MAC games are also on the road. And then there is an October 27th trip to BYU. That is a very tough non-conference slate with some tough conference games mixed in early in the year. If Northern Illinois can stay healthy and not lose their confidence, this team has the talent to win the MAC.
Projected Bowl: Boca Raton Bowl
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 177.8 (48th in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 199.9 (86, 8)
Total Offense: 377.8 (93, 9)
Scoring Offense: 28.9 (60, 4)
Rushing Defense: 120.0 (16, 2)
Pass Defense: 218.5 (57, 7)
Total Defense: 338.5 (26, 1)
Scoring Defense: 22.0 (32, 1)
Turnover Margin: -0.15 (81, 8)
Sacks: 3.31 (2, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.08 (67, 8)
Madness 2019 NFL Draft Rankings:
#79 Sutton Smith