2009 NIU Huskies Football Preview

With a new coach, the expectations of a football team coming off of a losing season can best be described as "unknown". After suffering through a 2-10 season in 2007, one that saw coach Joe Novak retire at the end of the season, Jerry Kill was brought in from Southern Illinois to right the ship; and right the ship he did.

In his first season, Kill led the Northern Illinois Huskies to a 6-7 record, one which saw the team lose a heartbreaker to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl, 17-10. This year's squad brings back 13 starters from last year's bowl team, which will be hoping to qualify for a bowl for the fourth time in six years.

Seven starters, including quarterback Chandler Harnish and running back Me'co Brown, return to lead a Huskie offense that averaged 24.2 points per game. But for the offense to improve on that total, which ranked ninth in the Mid-American Conference, the passing game will have to improve on its 163.8 yards per game average. And the one to lead that revival will be Harnish, a sophomore who led the team in both passing and rushing in a redshirt freshman campaign that saw him start nine games.

Back to help Harnish out are a slew of running backs that will be looking for more consistency than last year's group, which with Harnish, combined for a total of 2,226 yards and 22 touchdowns. Brown led the running backs with a total of 510 yards last year, while Harnish led the team with 539. Chad Spann, who led the team with eight rushing touchdowns, Ricky Crider and Justin Anderson, who rushed for 1,245 yards in 2007, add depth.

Of all of the offensive units on the team, none is more important than the wide receiving core. Unfortunately, this also happens to be the most inexperienced unit. After losing three of their five top receivers from a year ago, the team will be looking to Harnish to help develop a young cast of receivers. Willie Clark and Nathan Palmer, each of whom saw playing time last year, return to fight out for one receiver spot, while returning starter, junior Landon Cox, will look to hold back fellow returnee Marcus Lewis for the other slot.

Last year's defense, led by first-round draft pick Larry English (No. 16 by San Diego), was the strength of the team, as it gave up a mere 18 points per game. Along with allowing the least amount of points, the defense led the MAC in pass defense (161.1 ypg) and total defense (298.5 ypg), while allowing the second-fewest rushing yards per game, at a 137.4 clip.

Gone from last year's squad, however, are seven starters, including two linebackers, both cornerbacks and both defensive ends. Even with the losses, the defense brings back 19 players who saw playing time. Defensive end Brandon Bice, a Third-Team All-MAC selection, leads the defense, after collecting 22 tackles as a junior.

The linebacking core might be the best in the MAC, as Alex Kube, Cory Hanson, Pat Schiller and John Tranchitella lead a talented returning cast.

Despite losing both starting cornerbacks, the defensive secondary welcomes back both safeties, the leading tacklers of last year's squad, Mike Sobol and David Bryant. The two will have to lead an inexperienced, but talented backfield.

Senior kicker Mike Salerno returns after a season where he converted 18 of 24 field goals, including a long of 52 yards.

Stay tuned to HuskiePride.com in the coming days for more coverage of the Northern Illinois Huskies' preseason and features on NIU players as they prepare for their season opener versus the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison on September 5th.

Below we will be featuring interviews with at least five Huskies over seven days:

August 9th – Senior Linebacker Cory Hanson

August 10th – Sophomore Quarterback Chandler Harnish

August 11th – Junior Linebacker Alex Kube

August 12th - Senior Defensive End Brandon Bice

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