Northern Illinois runs the Pistol offense which is a combination of the shotgun and single-back offense. The main player that Iowa State needs to focus on is senior running back Chad Spann who rushed for 1,038 yards on 179 carries while scoring 19 touchdowns last season. The 5-foot-9, 198-pound speedster should see the ball early and often. Iowa State transfer Cameron Bell will not play on Thursday night.
The Iowa State defense could see two quarterbacks on Thursday as last year's starter Chandler Harnish has been dealing with knee issues since the end of last season. Last year he threw for 11,670 yards and 11 touchdowns while also throwing six interceptions. Junior DeMarcus Grady is the back-up and he started four games last season and won them all. He looks to run the ball a lot more than Harnish and during his four starts last season he rushed for 518 yards and four touchdowns.
The number one receiving target for the Huskies is senior Landon Cox who led the team last season with 45 catches for 535 yards and four touchdowns. The two main outside receivers are Willie Clark (6-foot-1) and Martrel Moore (6-foot-2). The other starting receiver is Nathan Palmer who averaged 23.2 yards per catch in 2008 but only made five catches for 70 yards and one touchdown last season.
Northern Illinois uses their tight end position more for blocking as Jason Schepler only caught one pass last year and essentially plays more of a glorified fullback role in their offense.
The offensive line does return three starters but the two starters that graduated (center Eddie Adamski and left guard Jason Onyebuagu) were four year starters and first-team All-MAC players. Replacing Adamski will be junior Scott Wedige and 6-foot-3, 312-pound sophomore Logan Pegram won the chance to replace Onyebuagu during the off-season.
Last year's right tackle Adam Kiehl was beaten out for the starting spot by 6-foot-4, 324-pound junior Keith Otis. The two main returning starters are juniors Trevor Olson (left tackle) and Joe Pawlak (right guard).
Northern Illinois on defense:
The Huskies led the MAC last year in total defense, were third in scoring defense, and finished second in sacks and tackles for loss which has the Northern Illinois faithful very excited because they return nine starters from this unit.
The team got a scare this summer when last season's sack leader Jake Coffman decided to leave the program and end his football career without playing his senior year. The 25-year old Marine changed his mind and decided to return thus adding a huge boost to the defense due to the fact that he had 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss that led to him earning second-team All-MAC honors. Sophomore Sean Progar took over on the other side midway during the season last year and ended up with six sacks.
Manning the middle of the defensive line are 6-0, 283-pound senior D.J. Pirkle and 6-foot-4, 266-pound senior Mike Krause.
Tyrone Clark is the new starter at weakside linebacker and he will join middle linebacker Devon Butler and senior Alex Kube who had 60 tackles last season as a junior.
The secondary is led by junior strong safety Tracy Wilson (6-foot-2, 203-pound) who led the team in tackles last year with 93. Sophomore Tommy Davis takes over at free safety while seniors Chris Smith and Kiaree Daniels return to start at cornerback.
The Cyclones are 2-0 against the Huskies in Jack Trice Stadium and I expect that record to remain perfect but Northern Illinois will not be intimidated in the least playing a Big 12 team on the road. Last year the Huskies beat Purdue on the road and nearly did the same thing at Wisconsin losing 28-20. Austen Arnaud begins his second season running offensive coordinator Tom Herman's spread offense and if the senior quarterback plays well on opening night the Cyclones should be able to score enough to outlast the Huskies. Expect a big night from both starting running backs (Spann and Iowa State's Alexander Robinson) and it will ultimately come down to who can control the line play which I expect the Cyclones will be able to do. Iowa State has won 11 of their last 12 home openers and I expect the Cyclones to do so again by winning a close game over the visiting Huskies.
MY PREDICTION: Iowa State 30 Northern Illinois 24