Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
1. The streak continues
John Wooden's UCLA basketball team won seven straight national titles from 1967-73 and 10 in all between 1964 and 1975. It was a crazy streak of dominance that featured four unbeaten seasons.
Geno Auriemma's UConn women's basketball team has currently won four national titles in a row; the Huskies have also had streaks of three in a row (2002-04) and two (2009-10) and have now won 11 rings since 1995. Six of his champions have finished unbeaten, and over the last three years UConn is a mind-boggling 116-1.
For both, the streaks included less-than-perfect teams. Wooden's 1965 champion began with a 27-point loss to Illinois. The 1969 champion barely eked by Drake in the national semifinals. The 1970 champion lost at Oregon, then lost at home to USC late in the regular season. The 1975 champion, Wooden's last, lost by 22 points at Washington late in the season and reached the finals only after beating Montana by three and surviving two overtime contests.
It's the same story with UConn. The first team in this four-year streak lost four regular season games before catching fire. The 2004 champion, the last of the three-year streak, lost four games and barely got by 11-seed UCSB in the Sweet 16.
This is nitpicking. But the point is this: You don't always get to look your best during a streak. Sometimes you just have to keep the streak going and hope you find your rhythm again.
Northern Illinois has won six consecutive MAC West titles. For the last few years, teams like Toledo and WMU have made the West the far stronger division in the conference, but no matter who else looks good, NIU ends up playing in Detroit.
- The first two teams in this six-year run were awesome. Both the 2010 and 2011 teams finished in the top 45 in S&P+; the 2011 team ranked 21st in Off. S&P+ as well. The Huskies were simply better than anyone else at high-tempo #MACtion.
- In 2012, the team that won the MAC and reached the Orange Bowl was nearly as good: 42nd in Off. S&P+, 53rd in overall S&P+.
- The 2013 team slipped to 64th overall thanks to defensive issues but was still spectacular on offense (28th).
- The 2014 team fell to 80th and had no business winning over better-on-paper Toledo and WMU teams. But they beat Toledo by three at home and raced by WMU in the second half of a snowy regular season finale, then torched a mediocre BGSU for the conference title.
The 2015 team may have been the most interesting yet. NIU improved to 69th overall in S&P+, but Toledo was an awesome 21st, powered by an early upset of Arkansas and easy wins over solid Arkansas State, BGSU, and Temple teams. WMU came in 53rd, putting together maybe the MAC's most impressive single-month performance of the season (WMU 196, Ohio/Miami/EMU/Ball State 62).
NIU lost to both Central Michigan and Ohio, which put the streak in doubt. But the Huskies played one of their best games of the year at Toledo in early November, and the Rockets blinked. And right before the Ohio loss, they once again took down WMU.
Even so, all Toledo had to do was beat WMU at home to win the West and end the streak. Western Michigan 35, Toledo 30. Sometimes a streak needs luck, too.
That NIU won its sixth straight despite losing THREE quarterbacks to injury made this even more remarkable. Granted, the QB situation meant that the season ended with two demoralizing losses -- 34-14 to BGSU in the MAC title game and an embarrassing 55-7 to Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl -- but when you're playing a true-freshman walk-on in the most important position, you're probably not going to beat good teams.
NIU still improved on paper over 2014. And with healthy signal callers (in theory), along with 2015's leading rusher, two of three leading receivers, an All-MAC left tackle, five of eight defensive linemen, five of six linebackers, and five of seven defensive backs all back, NIU will likely improve even more in 2016.
Streaks end. But when you bet on it to happen, you tend to end up feeling silly.
|Record: 8-6 | Adj. Record: 8-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 66 | Final S&P+ Rk: 69|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|19-Sep||at Ohio State||3||13-20||L||46%||11%||+24.7||+28.0|
|26-Sep||at Boston College||70||14-17||L||22%||5%||+4.9||+1.5|
|3-Oct||at Central Michigan||67||19-29||L||40%||27%||-16.9||-13.0|
|4-Dec||vs. Bowling Green||25||14-34||L||6%||0%||-10.6||-8.0|
|23-Dec||vs. Boise State||37||7-55||L||1%||0%||-46.4||-39.5|
|Points Per Game||31.1||52||27.6||73|
2. Ignore the finish
Bowling Green and Boise State were better than NIU in 2015 and would have probably beaten the Huskies regardless of NIU's quarterback. Still, the margins were affected by injuries to starter Drew Hare (Achilles), backup Anthony Maddie (back), and third-string freshman Ryan Graham (leg). By the time Tommy Fiedler was forced to take the field -- head coach Rod Carey elected to keep the redshirt on well-regarded freshman Daniel Santacaterina -- the battle was already lost.
Fiedler threw three interceptions against Bowling Green, and while Graham returned for the Boise State game, he was clearly limited, completing just seven of 21 passes and taking five sacks. (His completions gained 38 yards, and his sacks lost 46.)
When Hare got hurt against Toledo, NIU was in the middle of a great string of performances. The Huskies had struggled mightily in a three-game road trip against Ohio (13 points, 2.6 yards per play), Boston College (14, 2.7), and CMU (19, 3.6). But they had averaged 51 points per game and 6.9 yards per play against bad Ball State, Miami (Ohio), and EMU defenses, and Hare had complete a 67-yard touchdown pass to Tommylee Lewis early in the Toledo game.
Graham led a late-game surge against Toledo and kept the ship afloat, but he got hurt against Ohio, and you see how that affected the numbers above.
Achilles and back injuries are hard to rebound from, but if either Hare or Maddie is at full strength, if Graham is able to build off of solid moments (and forget Boise State ever happened), or if Santacaterina becomes the real deal, the finish to NIU's 2015 doesn't matter going forward.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.6%||78||Succ. Rt. +||101.4||66|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||32.2||114||Def. FP+||31.1||97|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.7||41||Redzone S&P+||109.7||37|
|Q1 Rk||95||1st Down Rk||95|
|Q2 Rk||99||2nd Down Rk||89|
|Q3 Rk||72||3rd Down Rk||53|
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Drew Hare||6'1, 218||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726||164||257||1962||14||4||63.8%||15||5.5%||6.9|
|Ryan Graham||6'1, 214||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7752||55||102||691||6||3||53.9%||13||11.3%||4.9|
|Tommy Fiedler||6'2, 192||So.||NR||NR||21||45||265||2||3||46.7%||4||8.2%||5.1|
|6'1, 203||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8292||20||33||227||0||1||60.6%||10||23.3%||4.1|
|Daniel Santacaterina||6'1, 198||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7933|
|Anthony Thompson||6'0, 196||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7924|
3. A first-stringer for now, and a first-stringer for later
One assumes the NIU offense will remain the NIU offense, at least when it comes to tempo and spread tendencies. But Carey didn't renew offensive coordinator Bob Cole's contract after last season, instead choosing to bring Mike Uremovich back into the fold. The 39-year old Uremovich spent the last three seasons at NC State, coaching for former NIU head man Dave Doeren; he was an NIU grad assistant from 2001-03 and coached NIU running backs during the 2012 Orange Bowl run.
Whatever Uremovich wants to do, however, will require a quarterback.
Now, Drew is our starter. Don’t get anything mixed up here. Drew is our starter. The other three, you know, I think you just have to really base that off production.
Still, recovering from an Achilles rupture takes a while, and with Maddie still working his way back, Graham began the season as NIU's No. 1 QB. Both Maddie in 2014 and Graham in 2015 took far too many sacks and were caught either thinking too hard or trusting their athleticism too much. The NIU offense tends to require QB mobility; that was certainly the case last year, with both Hare and Graham rushing for more than 200 non-sack yards. But you still have to have some pocket presence, and it was lacking for the young Graham last season.
|Joel Bouagnon||TB||6'2, 226||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8106||283||1286||18||4.5||4.4||33.2%||0||0|
|Drew Hare||QB||6'1, 218||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726||89||332||1||3.7||2.9||38.2%||7||3|
|Jordan Huff||TB||5'11, 218||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8093||86||653||8||7.6||9.2||41.9%||2||2|
|Ryan Graham||QB||6'1, 214||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7752||56||228||0||4.1||3.7||35.7%||6||4|
|QB||6'1, 203||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8292||34||152||1||4.5||4.6||32.4%||1||0|
|Aregeros Turner||WR||5'11, 178||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8497||24||152||1||6.3||7.0||45.8%||2||2|
|Tommy Fiedler||QB||6'2, 192||So.||NR||NR||13||55||0||4.2||2.4||46.2%||0||0|
|D.J. Brown||RB/WR||5'9, 182||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8430||12||63||1||5.3||4.6||41.7%||0||0|
|Kenny Golladay||WR||6'4, 200||Sr.||NR||NR||9||14||1||1.6||2.6||11.1%||2||2|
|Marcus Jones||TB||5'8, 197||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7952||8||109||1||13.6||18.6||50.0%||0||0|
|Keith Harris Jr.||TB||5'8, 200||Sr.||NR||0.7000||
|Tre Harbison||TB||5'11, 208||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8649||
4. Enough backs?
On paper, Jordan Huff was the most successful running back on the team. NIU's pre-Toledo eruption coincided nicely with a Huff breakout: Against Ball State, Miami, and EMU, he carried 35 times for 279 yards and four touchdowns. He ripped off 159 yards in just eight carries in the semi-upset of WMU as well.
Huff was not listed on the roster this spring. He's still in school, and his status is unclear.
Losing Huff would hurt -- it would mean senior Joel Bouagnon is the only returning back who carried more than 12 times last year. He was neither as efficient nor explosive as Huff, but the staff clearly found him durable and reliable. He carried at least 14 times in every game but the bowl, and he carried 26 or more times in five games. He'll still need to be spelled, however.
Sophomore D.J. Brown is an interesting option, but the former star recruit is currently listed as a receiver after carrying 12 times last fall. Marcus Jones had a 73-yard touchdown run against Miami among his eight freshman carries; he might be the second-stringer by default. Beyond that, however? Hard to say.
The receiving corps is far more stable, as seniors Kenny Golladay, Aregeros Turner, and Chad Beebe are all back. The lanky Golladay had a breakout year; his 73 catches for 1,129 yards are even more impressive when you think about how much the passing game trailed off down the stretch (last three games: nine catches, 94 yards). He came up big against Toledo and WMU and presents a tricky matchup for any MAC corner.
Beyond this senior trio waits quite a few young former three-star recruits: Brown, redshirt freshman Spencer Tears (the jewel of the 2015 class), freshman Andrew Parchment, etc. [Update: running back Tre Harbison transferred to NIU from Virginia, and will have four years of eligibility remaining after he sits out 2016.}
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Kenny Golladay||WR||6'4, 200||Sr.||NR||NR||129||73||1129||56.6%||33.4%||8.8||49.6%||45.7%||1.79|
|Aregeros Turner||WR||5'11, 178||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8497||54||39||343||72.2%||14.0%||6.4||64.8%||53.7%||1.08|
|Chad Beebe||WR||5'9, 184||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7539||22||13||193||59.1%||5.7%||8.8||40.9%||50.0%||1.51|
|Joel Bouagnon||TB||6'2, 226||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8106||19||13||131||68.4%||4.9%||6.9||36.8%||31.6%||1.82|
|Shane Wimann||TE||6'4, 254||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7300||12||11||98||91.7%||3.1%||8.2||83.3%||83.3%||0.95|
|Ezra Saffold||WR||5'7, 168||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7790||7||5||44||71.4%||1.8%||6.3||85.7%||42.9%||1.19|
|Christian Blake||WR||6'1, 182||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7948||7||5||44||71.4%||1.8%||6.3||42.9%||57.1%||0.47|
|Clayton Glasper||WR||6'4, 228||Sr.||NR||0.7000||4||1||7||25.0%||1.0%||1.8||0.0%||25.0%||0.71|
|Jordan Huff||TB||5'11, 218||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8093||3||2||12||66.7%||0.8%||4.0||100.0%||33.3%||1.36|
|Ryan Stendler||TE||6'4, 257||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000|
|D.J. Brown||WR||5'9, 182||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8430|
|Spencer Tears||WR||6'0, 180||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8622|
|Daniel Crawford||TE||6'1, 240||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8088|
|Andrew Parchment||WR||6'3, 180||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8076|
|Mitchell Brinkman||TE||6'3, 235||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7857|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Aidan Conlon||LG||14||56||2015 1st All-MAC|
|Andrew Ness||C||14||56||2015 1st All-MAC|
|Levon Myers||LT||6'5, 309||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7863||14||14||2015 2nd All-MAC|
|Max Scharping||RT||6'6, 311||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7826||14||14|
|Josh Ruka||RG||6'5, 330||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726||7||7|
|Lincoln Howard||RT||6'5, 305||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||6||6|
|Ron Brown||RG||6'3, 348||Sr.||NR||NR||1||1|
|Dale Brown||LT||6'3, 302||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759||0||0|
|Shane Evans||LG||6'4, 302||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8322||0||0|
|Luke Shively||C||6'2, 288||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||0||0|
|Nathan Veloz||OL||6'4, 316||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8263|
|Jordan Steckler||OL||6'4, 297||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8095|
|Vincent Hughes||OL||6'4, 270||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8093|
|Austin Warner||OL||6'4, 265||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7824|
|Brayden Patton||OL||6'4, 265||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7757|
5. Experience vs. experience
NIU basically returns three of last year's five starters up front. Senior Levon Myers and sophomore Max Scharping started every game, and seniors Josh Ruka and lincoln Howard basically split half a season each in the lineup. Including one start from senior Ron Brown, you've got five guys returning with starting experience, a solid total.
On the other hand, the two guys NIU lost -- guard Aidan Conlan, center Andrew Ness -- combined to start 112 games, eight full seasons' worth. If they had been starting next to three true freshmen last year, you'd have still had to call the NIU "seasoned and experienced" because of these two. Losing them means losing two stalwarts, the final remaining holdovers from the Orange Bowl squad. That hurts.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.5%||65||Succ. Rt. +||95.3||84|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||31.5||37||Off. FP+||32.1||25|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||3.8||18||Redzone S&P+||108.3||32|
|Q1 Rk||68||1st Down Rk||62|
|Q2 Rk||59||2nd Down Rk||43|
|Q3 Rk||103||3rd Down Rk||43|
6. A Kevin Kane defense
Kane is young enough to have a Rivals recruiting profile. The Kansas City product was a heady two-star linebacker in Mark Mangino's first signing class at Kansas. He recorded 65 tackles and two picks during Kansas' Fort Worth Bowl run in 2005.
Living in Big 12 country, I seem to recall "he's like a coach on the field" quotes about Kane. A decade later, he's a defensive coordinator. He was NIU's linebackers coach from 2011-14 before serving for one year in the same position at his alma mater. When NIU DC Jay Niemann took the DC job at Rutgers, Carey called Kane back to DeKalb.
The best defenses during Kane's time at NIU were small but speedy; they were forced to take on a bit of a bend-don't-break identity but took full advantage of pass rush opportunities. They let you establish control on standard downs but dominated on passing downs.
The 2015 unit was a bit more bendy than preferred and didn't have nearly the same pass rush presence as, say, the 2012 Orange Bowl team. Still, the Huskies shut down scoring opportunities and prevented big plays. They had more size than normal up front, and a good field position game led to a No. 47 Def. S&P+ rating, NIU's best since S&P+ ratings started in 2005.
Kane's task will be to combine these solid bend-don't-break principles with a few more passing downs stops. Easy, right?
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ladell Fleming||DE||6'0, 236||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||14||24.5||2.8%||5.0||3.0||0||0||1||0|
|Corey Thomas||DT||6'2, 306||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||11||19.0||2.1%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|William Lee||NG||6'2, 304||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7726||14||18.5||2.1%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Mario Jones||DT||6'0, 286||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8125||13||13.5||1.5%||1.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Ruben Dunbar||DE||6'3, 270||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8488||11||12.5||1.4%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Austin Smaha||DE||6'1, 232||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7383||8||7.5||0.8%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Rajshawn Mosley||DE||6'2, 261||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7783||8||5.5||0.6%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Russell Chambers||NG||6'3, 285||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7685||11||5.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Herlandez Corley||DT||6'2, 278||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7600||7||3.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Kelly||DT||6'2, 271||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8081|
|Alton Meeks||DE||6'3, 244||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7889|
|Jack Heflin||DE||6'3, 245||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7998|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Sean Folliard||OLB||6'2, 231||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7394||13||66.5||7.5%||8.5||1.0||1||4||1||0|
|Renard Cheren||OLB||6'0, 224||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7706||13||51.5||5.8%||5.5||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Bobby Jones IV||OLB||6'0, 222||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||14||46.0||5.2%||4.0||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Jamaal Payton||MLB||6'0, 226||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||14||34.0||3.8%||4.5||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Jawuan Johnson||OLB||5'11, 209||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7733||13||24.0||2.7%||2.5||1.0||1||0||0||0|
|Alex Schwab||LB||6'1, 223||Jr.||NR||NR||12||9.5||1.1%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Josh Corcoran||LB||6'3, 221||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8189||14||9.5||1.1%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kyle Pugh||LB||5'11, 228||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8281|
|Sutton Smith||LB||6'0, 195||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8088|
|Andrew Gregory||LB||6'1, 197||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7757|
|Corey Lersch||LB||6'3, 210||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7884|
7. Still plenty of weapons on the edge
Kane should be able to do pretty good things with NIU's linebacking corp. Stalwart middle man Boomer Mays is gone, but the outside positions are stocked with up to four guys who could do some damage: senior Sean Folliard, junior Bobby Jones IV, and sophomores Renard Cheren and Jawuan Johnson. The foursome combined for 20 tackles for loss last season. If senior Jamaal Payton or one of the OLBs is able to man the middle effectively, this should be one of the better linebacking corps in the MAC. And they'll get help from an experienced set of big tackles.
The quantity of OLBs is good because defensive end is a bit of an unknown. The top two are gone, and while senior Ladell Fleming has flashed some potential, it's hard to say who else might be able to fill a play-making role. And for as shaky as the pass rush was (84th in Adj. Sack Rate), havoc against the run was even more problematic: NIU ranked 128th, dead last, in stuff rate (run stops at or behind the line). Folliard had 7.5 non-sack TFLs, a solid total; he might need to double that this year.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Brandon Mayes||SS||5'11, 193||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7842||14||74.0||8.4%||1||0||3||4||0||0|
|Shawun Lurry||CB||5'8, 178||Jr.||NR||NR||14||39.0||4.4%||0.5||0||9||15||0||0|
|Albert Smalls||CB||6'1, 197||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7483||14||33.0||3.7%||0||0||1||10||0||0|
|Mycial Allen||SS||5'11, 198||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8250||14||17.0||1.9%||1||0||2||0||0||0|
|Anthony Brooks||CB||5'11, 191||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||11||14.0||1.6%||0||0||0||4||0||0|
|Elijah Campbell||FS||6'0, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||13||4.5||0.5%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Tifonte Hunt||CB||5'9, 178||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7556||13||3.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Mayomi Olootu||CB||5'9, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8215|
|Jackson Abresch||S||6'1, 207||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000|
|Trequan Smith||S||5'11, 176||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7800|
|Jalen Embry||CB||6'0, 184||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8100|
|Daniel Isom||DB||5'10, 173||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8005|
8. Replacing nine-year veteran Marlon Moore
Marlon Moore recorded two picks, four breakups, and 34.5 tackles for the Orange Bowl squad of 2012, defensed 16 passes in 2013-14 while moving from corner to safety, and did a little bit of everything as a senior leader in 2015. He was a stalwart in the back, and corner Paris Logan was a three-year difference maker as well. Losing them means losing two extreme veteran play-makers.
Still, that's all NIU loses in the back. Corners Shawun Lurry and Albert Smalls combined for 10 picks and 25 breakups last year as part of a secondary that figured out how to still get hands on passes despite the lack of a pass rush. Junior safeties Brandon Mayes and Mycial Allen also played steady roles in the back. And if the front seven can figure out how to be a little bit more disruptive, the aggressive secondary should figure out how to take advantage.
|Jacob Ambrose||5'10, 175||Sr.||74||37.9||3||26||15||55.4%|
|Ryan Graham||6'1, 214||So.||4||34.0||2||0||1||25.0%|
|Christian Hagan||6'0, 189||Jr.||53||59.1||13||3||24.5%|
|Josh Orne||6'0, 218||Sr.||30||53.3||3||5||10.0%|
|Christian Hagan||6'0, 189||Jr.||52-54||10-11||90.9%||4-7||57.1%|
|Aregeros Turner||KR||5'11, 178||Sr.||45||26.2||2|
|Chad Beebe||PR||5'9, 184||Sr.||14||8.5||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||60|
|Field Goal Efficiency||36|
|Punt Return Success Rate||27|
|Kick Return Success Rate||42|
|Punt Success Rate||109|
|Kickoff Success Rate||100|
9. An interesting, inefficient approach
The return game appears to be in pretty good hands with Aregeros Turner (who returned two kickoffs for scores) and Chad Beebe. Plus, place-kicker Chistian Hagen turned into a mostly reliable weapon. That's three-fifths of a strong special teams unit. Now ... about those legs. NIU didn't allow big returns in 2015 and seemed to prefer the higher-and-shorter method on both kickoffs and punts. But they were a little bit too short. From an efficiency standpoint, NIU's punting and kickoffs were both subpar.
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|10-Sep||at South Florida||41||-10.9||26%|
|17-Sep||San Diego State||55||-0.7||48%|
|1-Oct||at Ball State||101||4.4||60%|
|8-Oct||at Western Michigan||65||-6.2||36%|
|16-Nov||at Eastern Michigan||121||4.3||60%|
|25-Nov||at Kent State||104||4.8||61%|
|Projected wins: 6.9|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||5.4% (51)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||117 / 122|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||2 / 0.2|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||+0.7|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||74% (85%, 63%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||8.1 (-0.1)|
10. What are you going to do, bet against them?
We know what's going to happen here. I've already called Central Michigan a MAC West contender. I will say the same about WMU and Toledo. I will probably rank at least one of them (and perhaps more) above NIU in next week's MAC power rankings.
And then NIU will go out and win a seventh straight division crown.
The Huskies are certainly going to make a go of it. The schedule's nice; CMU and Toledo at home, with three of the conferences worse teams (Ball State, EMU, Kent State) on the road. The injury bug should be kinder, just as a regression to the mean. And the overall experience will be strong.
On paper, NIU hasn't been the best team in the West for the last couple of years, but the Huskies have for the most part saved their biggest moments for their most important division games. I will probably pick the streak to end, and I will probably feel dumb about it in December.