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Wanna bet against NIU winning the MAC West for the 7th year in a row?

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Good luck. This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Stay tuned!

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

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.

2015 Schedule & Results

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
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep UNLV 105 38-30 W 71% 95% -6.8 -15.0
12-Sep Murray State N/A 57-26 W 70% 100% +3.7
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
10-Oct Ball State 110 59-41 W 72% 97% +8.6 +8.0
17-Oct at Miami-OH 113 45-12 W 93% 100% +20.0 +17.5
24-Oct Eastern Michigan 122 49-21 W 81% 100% +11.7 0.0
3-Nov at Toledo 20 32-27 W 77% 78% +16.7 +12.0
11-Nov at Buffalo 98 41-30 W 67% 83% +5.7 +4.0
18-Nov Western Michigan 51 27-19 W 69% 76% +4.0 +5.0
24-Nov Ohio 69 21-26 L 47% 41% -12.5 -16.0
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

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 26.0 86 25.2 47
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.22 86 IsoPPP+ 94.4 90
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.2 ACTUAL 27 +2.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 66 84 66 90
RUSHING 41 95 75 99
PASSING 82 61 50 64
Standard Downs 82 62 87
Passing Downs 86 87 77
Q1 Rk 95 1st Down Rk 95
Q2 Rk 99 2nd Down Rk 89
Q3 Rk 72 3rd Down Rk 53
Q4 Rk 42

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
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
Anthony Maddie
(2014)
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.

Carey left no doubt regarding who his first-string QB would be in a perfect, injury-free world:

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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
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
Anthony Maddie
(2014)
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
Tommylee Lewis WR 8 20 0 2.5 3.4 37.5% 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.}

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Kenny Golladay WR 6'4, 200 Sr. NR NR 129 73 1129 56.6% 33.4% 8.8 49.6% 45.7% 1.79
Tommylee Lewis WR 54 34 398 63.0% 14.0% 7.4 61.1% 38.9% 1.77
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
Juwan Brescacin WR 45 24 298 53.3% 11.7% 6.6 51.1% 37.8% 1.53
Desroy Maxwell TE 29 20 221 69.0% 7.5% 7.6 69.0% 44.8% 1.62
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

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 99.5 2.61 3.1 36.4% 66.1% 19.8% 84.6 5.0% 7.4%
Rank 74 108 77 94 63 79 88 70 64
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
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.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.17 22 IsoPPP+ 104.3 49
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.4 ACTUAL 29.0 +4.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 87 63 84 49
RUSHING 71 63 85 47
PASSING 91 66 80 64
Standard Downs 75 98 57
Passing Downs 52 54 47
Q1 Rk 68 1st Down Rk 62
Q2 Rk 59 2nd Down Rk 43
Q3 Rk 103 3rd Down Rk 43
Q4 Rk 8

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?

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 91.3 3.01 3.44 37.0% 80.6% 13.3% 88.7 3.6% 6.4%
Rank 100 85 89 51 124 128 84 105 85
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Perez Ford DE 13 33.0 3.7% 6.5 5.0 0 0 1 0
Cameron Clinton-Earl DE 14 30.0 3.4% 7.0 3.0 0 1 0 0
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
Ben Compton DT 13 18.0 2.0% 5.0 3.0 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








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Boomer Mays MLB 14 93.5 10.6% 5.0 0.5 1 4 1 0
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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Marlon Moore FS 14 86.0 9.7% 1.5 0 2 7 2 0
Brandon Mayes SS 5'11, 193 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7842 14 74.0 8.4% 1 0 3 4 0 0
Paris Logan CB 12 45.0 5.1% 2 0 1 11 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
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%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
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%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Christian Hagan 6'0, 189 Jr. 52-54 10-11 90.9% 4-7 57.1%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Aregeros Turner KR 5'11, 178 Sr. 45 26.2 2
Paris Logan KR 3 23.3 0
Chad Beebe PR 5'9, 184 Sr. 14 8.5 0
Tommylee Lewis PR 3 5.3 0
Category Rk
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.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at Wyoming 110 7.9 68%
10-Sep at South Florida 41 -10.9 26%
17-Sep San Diego State 55 -0.7 48%
24-Sep Western Illinois NR 22.9 91%
1-Oct at Ball State 101 4.4 60%
8-Oct at Western Michigan 65 -6.2 36%
15-Oct Central Michigan 85 6.0 64%
22-Oct Buffalo 109 14.5 80%
1-Nov Bowling Green 60 -0.1 50%
9-Nov Toledo 58 -0.3 49%
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.