IOWA CITY, Iowa - Few people would have predicted that Iowa's 18-17 win against Northern Illinois would serve as the Huskies' lone loss in the 2012 regular season. They looked offensively challenged outside of a strong performance from quarterback Jordan Lynch.
The light turned on for NIU following its difficulties with the Hawkeyes, who scored the winning touchdown in the final two minutes of the game. The Huskies rolled up no fewer than 30 points in the next 12 games until losing, 31-10, to No. 12 Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
Lynch ended up finishing seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting (three first-place votes). He threw for 3,138 yards (25 touchdowns) and ran for another 1,815 (19 touchdowns), becoming the first player in FBS history to exceed 3,000 yards passing and 1,500 rushing.
Iowa held Lynch to a season-low 54 passing yards. He pick up 119 on the ground but 73 came on one run.
Some of Lynch's modest numbers against the Hawkeyes you can chalk up to a conservative game plan. He was making his first college start and Iowa's offense wasn't going to force the Huskies into taking chances for fear of losing a shootout.
The Hawkeye defense also deserved credit for containing Lynch. The unit performed solidly until getting worn down by continually being on the field as last season progressed.
Iowa produced a blueprint on defending the dual-threat that is Lynch it can use on Saturday (2:30 p.m., BTN) when the Huskies come to Kinnick Stadium for the season-opener. His Heisman hopes could be crushed if the Hawkeyes can put it into action.
"We're familiar with them, but they're familiar with us," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said last month. "That stuff is all a wash.
"They were a good team last year. They lost to us in a game we easily could've lost and then they didn't lose again. That didn't surprise me. When we left Soldier Field, they were every bit as good as we thought they were going into it. The quarterback just kept getting better and better and that's a good combination."
It's the season-opening game for both schools. NIU is receiving votes in each of the major polls.
Iowa has won all eight meetings in the series.
The Las Vegas Mirage lists Iowa as a 3-point favorite. Covers.com showed the opening number at the Hawkeyes -6.5. Off-shore site, 5 Dimes, places the over-under number at 53.
-The Huskies are 6-1 Against the Spread (ATS) in their last seven games versus Big Ten opponents.
-Iowa is 9-4-1 ATS in its last 14 contests facing MAC programs.
Iowa DE Dominic Alvis v. NIU LT Ryan Brown: Alvis and Brown return as starters with Brown flipping from the right to left side of the line. This is a big year for Alvis. The senior leads a relatively inexperienced front that needs to improve its pressure and containment of opposing quarterbacks from a year ago. Lynch and the Huskies O-Line will pose a sizable challenge.
Iowa TE C.J. Fiedorowicz v. NIU LB Jamaal Bass: The 5-foot-10, 225-pound Bass leads a group of linebackers that will have its hands full with the 6-7, 265 tight end. First-time starter Jake Rudock likely will be looking often for a safety valve and Fiedorowicz could be his guy.
Iowa - No injuries to report.
POINTS OF INTEREST
-NIU enters the 2013 season winners of 21 of its last 23 games, dating back to the 2011 season. One if the Huskies' two setbacks came to the Iowa Hawkeyes (18-17 in last year's season opener in Chicago).
-Illinois is 41-86 since 2002. Northern Illinois is 90-51 in that time.
-Kicker Mathew Sims was the first-team All-MAC kicker last season after hitting 20 of 28 field goal attempts and 64 of 66 extra points.
-Head Coach Rod Carey was a center on Indiana's offensive line, 1989-93.
-The MAC media has picked Northern Illinois to win the MAC West Division.
-Northern Illinois trailed Florida State, 17-10, heading into the fourth quarter of January's Orange Bowl. The Seminoles went on to a 31-10 victory.
-NIU loses seven starters from a '12 defense that yielded just 19.9 points per game -- good for second in the MAC and 21st nationally. The Huskies replace three starters up front, three linebackers and two starters from the secondary. The group of departed includes three of their top four sack leaders from 2012.
-Ben Niemann, a verbal commitment in the 2014 class, is the son of NIU Defensive Coordinator Jay Niemann, a native of Avoca and an Iowa State graduate. Ben was pledged to the Huskies as a wide receiver until he was flipped by the Hawkeyes, who recruited him as a linebacker.
-The last time Iowa competed against the same team in consecutive openers was Iowa State in 1983 and 1984; Iowa won both contests, 51-10 and 59-21, respectively.
-Iowa ranks ninth in the country in consecutive contests without a missed or blocked PAT (30 games).
-Iowa is 18-5 when rushing for 120 yards or more the last three seasons.
-Iowa has averaged 36.1 points and a winning margin of 28.5 in its last 12 season-opening victories.
-Rudock becomes the first Iowa starting quarterback to make his Hawkeye debut in a season opener since Ryan Driscoll in 1994.
Nine months ago, Iowa walked off the Kinnick Stadium field following a season-ending setback to Nebraska, it's sixth defeat in a row. It represented the longest skid under Kirk Ferentz since a eight-game run of futility completed the 1999 campaign, the coach's first year leading the program.
The Hawkeyes would go on to lose their first five games of the following season . While sane people would agree that the program sits in a much better position than it did a decade and a half ago, last year's 4-8 record created plenty of doubt about Iowa's future from people on the outside.
The players and coaches have told us they've worked hard during the offseason. They had to. Now we get to see if it paid dividends.
While many major conference schools will open up their seasons against pushovers, the Hawkeyes face a stiff challenge in Week 1. If they haven't improved, Northern Illinois can expose their deficiencies.
Defensively, Lynch allows us to see if Iowa has improved its ability to contain dual-threat quarterbacks. The Huskies also return their offensive line to make things more difficult on a Hawkeye front needing to show growth.
While eyes will be on the defensive line and its match-up with Lynch, most of the fans will focused on at Greg Davis' offense and Rudock. NIU replaces seven starters on defense but welcome back two '11 first-teamers that missed last season with injury.
Perhaps I'm a homer, but I don't think Iowa is as bad as it played last season. I do believe its a motivated group even if I'm not convinced of there being a high level of talent.
The Huskies will have targets on their backs this season. They'll also need to develop on defense.
SCORE: IOWA 27, NIU 17