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1. Stars leave
It is a fact of life in college football and, to a less rigidly scheduled degree, every other sport. As good as your favorite players are, they eventually run out of eligibility.
In two years as Northern Illinois' starting quarterback, Jordan Lynch helped the Huskies win 24 games, passed for 6,000 yards, rushed for 3,700, scored 24 touchdowns, passed for 49 more, lost a single MAC game, led NIU to the Orange Bowl, and ended up a Heisman finalist. These are not things that are supposed to happen. Lynch was one of the most effective rushing quarterbacks in college football's history and packed four years' worth of stats into two years.
Now Lynch is gone. He leaves behind a team that is experienced in most units, and from a recruiting standpoint, the freshmen and redshirt freshmen entering the mix were more highly touted than the ones leaving. NIU's program is just about as healthy as a MAC program can be, but the Huskies now have to replace an irreplaceable quarterback. We'll see how that goes.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 12-2 | Adj. Record: 10-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 60|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||at Iowa||29||30-27||W||32.7 - 30.4||W|
|14-Sep||at Idaho||116||45-35||W||24.5 - 35.8||L|
|21-Sep||Eastern Illinois||N/A||43-39||W||33.1 - 45.6||L|
|28-Sep||at Purdue||114||55-24||W||33.1 - 41.3||L|
|5-Oct||at Kent State||106||38-24||W||37.6 - 28.3||W||-4.1|
|12-Oct||Akron||108||27-20||W||21.8 - 20.4||W||-4.3|
|19-Oct||at Central Michigan||111||38-17||W||39.8 - 29.3||W||0.1|
|26-Oct||Eastern Michigan||124||59-20||W||39.7 - 26.1||W||5.3|
|2-Nov||at Massachusetts||118||63-19||W||46.4 - 32.8||W||9.7|
|13-Nov||Ball State||57||48-27||W||47.6 - 28.4||W||11.7|
|20-Nov||at Toledo||62||35-17||W||42.3 - 26.1||W||14.6|
|26-Nov||Western Michigan||117||33-14||W||32.3 - 28.2||W||13.3|
|6-Dec||vs. Bowling Green||47||27-47||L||37.8 - 39.5||L||10.3|
|26-Dec||vs. Utah State||32||14-21||L||31.4 - 19.6||W||9.9|
|Points Per Game||39.6||11||25.1||53|
|Adj. Points Per Game||35.7||19||30.8||92|
2. Slow start
Despite solid experience, NIU's 2013 team simply wasn't quite as good as the 2012 Huskies. The speed-over-size defense got pushed around a bit more and spent far less time in opposing backfields. But after a slow start, this was still an awesome team over the last half of the regular season.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): Opponent 33.6, NIU 30.5 (minus-3.1)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 6 games): NIU 41.4, Opponent 28.5 (plus-12.9)
Early near-misses against Idaho and Eastern Illinois led to an air of vulnerability despite an impressive win at Iowa and a blowout of hapless Purdue.
But beginning in mid-October, as conference rivals began to think they might have a shot at ending NIU's long conference win streak, the Huskies laid the hammer down. Their back-to-back wins over Ball State and Toledo, by a combined margin of 39 points, were fantastic. They absorbed some shots from both teams, then pulled away with no mercy in the second halves. They averaged more than 7.3 yards per play in both games (after averaging more than 9.0 against EMU and UMass); they averaged 7.8 yards per play and allowed 5.0 in Games No. 7-12. They completely dominated.
And then they ran into a buzzsaw in the MAC title game, which completely changed the tenor of the season as a whole (and set the table for two fun BCS bowl upsets: UCF over Baylor and Oklahoma over Alabama).
After winning 24 of 26 games, Jordan Lynch finished his career with two losses.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||49.5%||11||Succ. Rt. +||105.2||45|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.7||45||Def. FP+||101.4||41|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||34||Redzone S&P+||115.2||18|
|Q1 Rk||41||1st Down Rk||27|
|Q2 Rk||34||2nd Down Rk||35|
|Q3 Rk||71||3rd Down Rk||64|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Drew Hare||6'1, 200||So.||2 stars (5.4)||5||9||153||2||0||55.6%||0||0.0%||17.0|
|Matt McIntosh||6'1, 197||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||2||2||54||2||0||100.0%||0||0.0%||27.0|
|Anthony Maddie||6'1, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Landon Root||6'3, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
3. There was no way NIU could replace Chandler Harnish
Jordan Lynch was an all-time stat collector. Not too long ago, a 2,000/1,000 season (2,000 passing yards, 1,000 rushing yards) was a rather remarkable accomplishment. Lynch averaged 3,000/1,850.
From a pure stat perspective, there's almost no way for a quarterback to top what Lynch accomplished. For NIU to succeed at a high level moving forward -- and to be sure, NIU could very well do that -- skill-position players are going to play more of a role, and the defense will need to raise its game. The quarterback position isn't going to produce what it has in the last couple of years.
That said, it does bear mentioning that we were saying things quite similar to this two years ago when Chandler Harnish's NIU career ended. Lynch's predecessor averaged 2,800 passing yards and 1,100 rushing yards over his last two seasons; those are dynamite numbers, and Lynch blew them out of the water. It's never a guarantee that the new guy will be worse than the last guy.
And hey, NIU backups Drew Hare and Matt McIntosh did average 18.8 yards per pass attempt and 10.2 yards per carry last year. Projected to match Lynch's attempts, that's 7,500 passing yards and 2,800 rushing yards! Because that's how projections work, right?
Hare, McIntosh, Anthony Maddie and incoming three-star signee Landon Root should assure that NIU puts a quality quarterback on the field, even if the winner of the job doesn't approach either Lynch's numbers or 7,500/2,800. And if the quarterback's decent, the rest of the offense should be excellent.
|Cameron Stingily||RB||6'1, 244||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||203||1119||9||5.5||3.7||48.3%|
|Akeem Daniels (2012)||RB||5'7, 184||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||68||447||9||6.6||4.5||N/A|
|Tommylee Lewis||WR||5'7, 155||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||30||356||1||11.9||9.9||66.7%|
|Joel Bouagnon||RB||6'2, 225||So.||2 stars (5.4)||22||86||0||3.9||0.9||36.4%|
|Keith Harris, Jr.||RB||5'8, 181||Jr.||NR||21||143||2||6.8||6.2||42.9%|
|Draco Smith||RB||5'9, 185||So.||2 stars (5.3)||13||96||0||7.4||9.2||38.5%|
|Aregeros Turner||WR||5'11, 170||So.||3 stars (5.7)||8||23||0||2.9||4.3||50.0%|
|Matt McIntosh||QB||6'1, 197||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||6||44||0||7.3||2.1||83.3%|
|Drew Hare||QB||6'1, 200||So.||2 stars (5.4)||5||68||1||13.6||11.0||80.0%|
|Jordan Huff||RB||5'11, 205||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Tommylee Lewis||WR||5'7, 155||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||109||86||715||78.9%||27.5%||72.1%||6.6||-230||6.1||82.1|
|Da'Ron Brown||WR||6'0, 194||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||92||46||752||50.0%||23.2%||56.3%||8.2||114||8.3||86.3|
|Juwan Brescacin||WR||6'4, 219||Jr.||NR||59||33||499||55.9%||14.9%||51.9%||8.5||69||9.3||57.3|
|Luke Eakes||TE||6'3, 250||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||15||12||113||80.0%||3.8%||60.0%||7.5||-18||7.8||13.0|
|Desroy Maxwell||TE||6'2, 245||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||11||113||84.6%||3.3%||61.5%||8.7||-4||8.7||13.0|
|Aregeros Turner||WR||5'11, 170||So.||3 stars (5.7)||11||8||70||72.7%||2.8%||45.5%||6.4||-21||6.3||8.0|
|Tim Semisch||TE||6'8, 266||Sr.||NR||11||7||84||63.6%||2.8%||66.7%||7.6||-1||5.1||9.6|
|Cameron Stingily||RB||6'1, 244||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||9||7||44||77.8%||2.3%||71.4%||4.9||-33||5.2||5.1|
|Keith Harris, Jr.||RB||5'8, 181||Jr.||NR||9||7||95||77.8%||2.3%||62.5%||10.6||18||13.6||10.9|
|Jacob Brinlee||WR||5'9, 185||Jr.||NR||8||6||76||75.0%||2.0%||71.4%||9.5||9||8.0||8.7|
|Chad Beebe||WR||5'9, 165||So.||2 stars (5.3)||7||2||101||28.6%||1.8%||N/A||14.4||61||0.0||11.6|
|Blake Holder||WR||6'2, 195||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0||0||0||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.0||0||0.0||0.0|
|Shane Wimann||TE||6'4, 225||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Malik Mitchell||WR||6'4, 181||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
| Kenny Golladay
|Christian Blake||WR||6'1, 170||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|David Senior||WR||5'10, 160||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Dale Brown||TE||6'5, 245||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Ezra Saffold||WR||5'7, 160||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)|
4. Is there such a thing as too much skill position depth?
You look at what NIU returns at running back and receiver and you wonder if the Huskies have spent too many scholarships on these particular areas. The Huskies are loaded with options here.
At running back, big Cameron Stingily returns; he wasn't explosive, but he was a nice bruiser to complement Lynch. He's joined by a pair of sophomores (Joe Bouganon, who didn't do much with 22 carries in 2013, and Draco Smith, who did a lot with 13) and an exciting junior (Keith Harris, Jr.). More importantly, however, he will also team up with senior Akeem Daniels.
Daniels was a revelation late in 2012; after a rather lackluster season, he rushed 29 times for 240 yards and five touchdowns against EMU in the season finale and Kent State in the MAC title game. He brought a speed aspect that NIU needed to keep attention off of Lynch, but he missed 2013 with recurring foot problems. From the Injuries Hurt in the Present but Help in the Future files, Daniels' absence allowed Stingily to emerge. Now, in Lynch's absence, NIU appears to have a thunder-and-lightning combination to unveil, at least as long as Daniels is healthy this time around.
NIU should have a nice running game, and at the very least it has options in every shape and size in the passing game. Return specialist Tommylee Lewis turned into a decent possession man in 2013, averaging a meager 8.3 yards per catch with a lovely 79 percent catch rate. Meanwhile, medium-sized Da'Ron Brown and big Juwan Brescacin each averaged at least 15 yards per catch (with sketchy catch rates). Tight ends Luke Eakes and Desroy Maxwell might be in position to play larger roles in 2014, transfer Kenny Golladay caught 43 passes for North Dakota in 12 games, and big things still might be in the cards for one-time star recruit Aregeros Turner.
|Tyler Loos||RT||6'5, 282||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||19||1st All-MAC|
|Jared Volk||LG||29||2nd All-MAC|
|Andrew Ness||C||6'3, 286||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||28|
|Aidan Conlon||RG||6'3, 287||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||28|
|Ryan Brown||LT||6'6, 283||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||27|
|Tyler Pitt||RG||6'5, 292||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||1|
|Levon Myers||LT||6'5, 267||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|Michael Gegner||C||6'3, 283||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Josh Ruka||RT||6'5, 295||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|Scott Taylor||OL||6'2, 295||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Shane Evans||OL||6'4, 295||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Max Scharping||OL||6'6, 250||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
5. Ninth and third
In my Toledo preview, I mentioned that the Rockets were one of only six teams to rank in the top 20 of both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rates. Well, only one team ranked in the top 10 of both categories: NIU.
Obviously there are some extenuating factors here -- Lynch's running ability would have made any line look pretty good, and the wealth of quick passes to Tommylee Lewis certainly limited sack opportunities. But when the stats are this good, that probably means something.
NIU's new starting quarterback will not only have a few exciting backs and diverse options at receiver; he'll also have the MAC's best offensive line in front of him, one that welcomes back five players with starting experience (a whopping 103 career starts in all), three two-year starters, and an all-conference tackle in Tyler Loos.
The scheme's good, the skill help is solid, the line is great ... there are worse situations for a new starting quarterback to inherit.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.6%||82||Succ. Rt. +||87.5||105|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||31.4||39||Off. FP+||102.5||32|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.9||39||Redzone S&P+||87.6||94|
|Q1 Rk||117||1st Down Rk||118|
|Q2 Rk||106||2nd Down Rk||65|
|Q3 Rk||75||3rd Down Rk||72|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jason Meehan||DE||6'1, 241||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||23.5||2.9%||7.0||6.5||0||1||0||0|
|Perez Ford||DE||6'0, 218||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||19.5||2.4%||9.0||4.5||0||0||1||0|
|Donovan Gordon||NG||6'0, 275||Sr.||NR||13||15.0||1.8%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Mario Jones||DT||6'0, 275||So.||3 stars (5.5)||11||10.0||1.2%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Michael Ippolito||DT||6'3, 259||So.||3 stars (5.5)||11||6.0||0.7%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Austin Smaha||DE||6'1, 210||So.||2 stars (5.2)||12||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Corey Thomas||DT||6'2, 308||So.||2 stars (5.2)||1||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Matthew Baltimore||DE||6'3, 230||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Ben Compton||DE||6'4, 240||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Ruben Dunbar||DE||6'3, 260||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Herlandez Corley||DE||6'3, 240||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
6. Not a lot of time in the backfield
In 2012, NIU's pummeling offense had a perfect counterpart in a fast, aggressive defense. NIU's defensive line was one of the smallest and most active in the country, with seven players logging at least 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacking the quarterback at least four times.
Unfortunately, both starting ends (Alan Baxter and Sean Progar, who combined for 18 sacks) graduated. That seemed to gum up the works. In 2013, NIU still managed a decent sack rate (four more linemen had at least 4.0 sacks, though none had more than 6.5 this time around). Meanwhile, NIU ranked 125th, dead last, in Stuff Rate (run stops behind the line). When you're not making aggressive plays with a small defensive front, all you're left with is the "small" part. NIU got pushed around, and while the Huskies were able to swarm and limit big plays on the ground for the most part -- considering the help up front, NIU's linebackers were quite strong in this regard -- this inefficiency opened the door for some glitches in pass defense.
For better or worse, NIU's mostly starting over up front this time around. Pass rush specialists Jason Meehan and Perez Ford return, but NIU is completely starting over at defensive tackle. The Huskies might not be much worse up front, but they almost certainly won't be better.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jamaal Bass||OLB||5'10, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||67.5||8.2%||6.0||2.0||0||2||0||0|
|Boomer Mays||MLB||6'0, 230||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||14||64.0||7.8%||5.5||2.0||1||0||1||0|
|Michael Santacaterina||OLB||5'10, 210||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||51.5||6.3%||2.0||1.0||0||5||0||0|
|Jamaal Payton||OLB||6'0, 210||So.||2 stars (5.2)||11||33.5||4.1%||3.0||1.0||0||3||1||0|
|Sean Folliard||MLB||6'2, 205||So.||2 stars (5.3)||11||15.0||1.8%||2.0||0.0||0||1||1||0|
|Cody Hazelett||OLB||6'2, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||10||11.0||1.3%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Ladell Fleming||OLB||6'0, 194||So.||2 stars (5.2)||9||6.5||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Bobby Jones IV||LB||6'0, 210||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Martayveus Carter||LB||5'11, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Renard Cheren||LB||6'0, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dechane Durante||FS||6'2, 196||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||44.5||5.4%||0||0||3||5||3||0|
|Paris Logan||CB||5'9, 179||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||14||38.0||4.6%||0||0||1||7||1||0|
|Marlon Moore||CB||5'9, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||14||31.5||3.8%||0||0||1||11||0||0|
|Mycial Allen||SS||5'11, 183||So.||3 stars (5.6)||10||6.0||0.7%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Marckie Hayes||CB||5'8, 176||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Brandon Mayes||DB||5'11, 182||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Deion Hallmon||DB||6'0, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Tifonte Hunt||DB||5'9, 170||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Mayomi Olootu||DB||5'9, 170||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
7. New leadership in the back
NIU's linebackers really were pretty strong, both in terms of cleaning up messes and in making a few plays along the way. All three starters return, as do all three primary backups. But between the rebuilding line and a similarly dissheveled secondary, the linebackers will likely have plenty of messes to clean up again this year.
Big plays were an issue for the NIU secondary in 2013, but at least the Huskies had safety Jimmie Ward in the back to make some plays of his own. He's gone, as are Dominique Ware and Jhony Faustin. NIU does get back a potential lockdown (when the lock works) corner in Marlon Ware, and Dechaen Durante was a big hitter at the free safety position, but there is no obvious, immediate replacement for Ward. If Moore and Paris Logan mature at corner, maybe that's not a problem. But it will probably be an issue at times.
|Tyler Wedel||5'11, 186||Sr.||50||40.4||1||28||14||84.0%|
|Tyler Wedel||5'11, 186||Sr.||101||59.8||32||6||31.7%|
|Tyler Wedel||5'11, 186||Sr.||8-8||2-2||100.0%||1-3||33.3%|
|Paris Logan||KR||5'9, 179||Jr.||20||24.1||0|
|Tommylee Lewis||KR||5'7, 155||Sr.||11||28.4||1|
|Tommylee Lewis||PR||5'7, 155||Sr.||6||3.7||0|
|Special Teams F/+||90|
|Field Goal Efficiency||98|
|Punt Return Efficiency||83|
|Kick Return Efficiency||23|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||81|
8. Legs need improvement
Because of the efficiency of the offense, NIU was a pretty decent field position team in 2013. But the Huskies could use a bit more help from special teams in that regard.
Tyler Wedel was a fair catch machine, but NIU was still only 98th in Brian Fremeau's Punt Efficiency ratings and 59th in Net Punting. Meanwhile, while kick returns were (and will be) a strength, punt returns were lacking.
Assuming the new quarterback isn't quite as proficient from an efficiency standpoint, a lot of other pieces will need to improve to make up the difference. That obviously includes kicks and returns.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|25-Oct||at Eastern Michigan||122|
|5-Nov||at Ball State||81|
|28-Nov||at Western Michigan||113|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||4.2% (49)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||98|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||13 / 12.9|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (9, 6)|
9. All but one strength gets stronger
In 2014, it appears that a lot of NIU's strengths (skill position depth, offensive line play, linebackers) will get stronger while its weaknesses (activity on the defensive line, big plays in the secondary) get weaker. This could result in a lot of #MACtion-style shootouts, but that will indeed depend on the quarterback position. NIU looks good enough at the other 10 offensive positions that Lynch's absence might not be a killer. But until we see someone step up and play well, we don't know for sure that it will happen. And even if it does, that probably won't help a sketchy defense very much.
The schedule certainly helps. NIU plays eight teams projected 102nd or worse and hosts division rival Toledo. Despite the road trip to Ball State, that could give the Huskies a decent chance at their fifth consecutive MAC West title. If they indeed get to the title game, they probably won't be favorites this time around, but they'll have a chance. Considering the quality of the quarterback they just lost, that's pretty impressive.
10. MAC balance of power
At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing 4,000 or so words about each of them.
Bowling Green finished the season the strongest, returns a ton of talent, and brought in a coach who seems to fit the personnel. The defending champs begin the season still at the top of the heap, but the next three on the list aren't far away. Any of these four could win the MAC.
I'm actually excited about where both of these teams will be in 2015, and either team is just one or two surprises from joining the top tier. But for now, I'm going to stick with the thought of them being a year away.
CMU is coming up because of experience, and Bufflao's moving down because of a lack thereof. Both of these moves could be temporary.
There is more hope in the bottom tier than before; EMU, Miami and UMass welcome in new coaches (and their corresponding new optimism), Kent State has had a year to rebound from an inevitable fall, and WMU just signed an incredible recruiting class. There's a chance that the MAC is a bit deeper than it was last year, but the bottom teams are still going to be pretty bad.