Northern Illinois has won six consecutive MAC West titles, and therefore made six straight MAC title game appearances. For the last several seasons, despite the advancements that teams like Toledo and WMU have made, the Huskies have ended up in Detroit playing for the MAC Title.
However, the Huskies are coming off an embarrassing end of 2015 via the 55-7 beat down by Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl, and a sloppy 40-34 triple overtime loss to Wyoming to kick off 2016. NIU arrives in Tampa with 12 returning starters, including quarterback Drew Hare, who led the Huskies to the 2014 MAC Title.
NIU also returns running back, Joel Bouagnon, who defines workhorse with his 283 rushing attempts in 2015. Bouagnon also broke the plane 18 times a season ago, and is seeking his second consecutive 1,000 yard season.
The major name every member of the USF secondary needs to be keying on is 6-foot-4 wide receiver, Kenny Golladay, who sports No. 19 for the Huskies. Golladay has amassed 1,273 receiving yards on 83 career receptions, and has also scored 12 touchdowns.
USF Coach Willie Taggart called Golladay a “tall, talented, rangy receiver" during the weekly presser. Taggart then jokingly added, “Get guys to the ball, maybe he [Golladay] gets a stomach flu.”
Golladay took home the offensive player of the week award for his 144 receiving yards, 82 rushing yards on six jet sweeps, and three total touchdowns in week one.
Overall, I do not see the Bulls, who dominated in the 56-20 win over Towson, having much of an issue containing the Huskies’ offense. I see Vincent Jackson having his way on the end, Nigel Harris staying on track from a game ago, and the same for strong safety Jaymon Thomas.
Thomas and Harris both had outstanding performances against the Towson Tigers in week one.
Defensively, coordinator Kevin Kane lost staunch linebacker Boomer Mays, but does return outside linebackers Sean Folliard, Bobby Jones, Renard Cheren, and Jawuan Johnson. Those four linebackers combined for 20 tackles-for-loss in 2015.
The Huskies return a solid, experienced group at defensive tackle, but are a bit light on defensive ends. NIU lost their top two defensive ends from a season ago, and are looking for Ladell Fleming and others to provide the needed pressure off the edge.
Notably, NIU returns West Palm Beach native and current cornerback, Shawun Lurry, who led the nation with nine interceptions in 2015.
The Bulls must be careful and fully cognizant that NIU will arrive, without an inkling of doubt, to Raymond James Stadium with a boulder on their shoulders. USF’s high-power ‘Gulf Coast’ offense has averaged 48.8 points and 522 yards over its last five games, and even if the Bulls are Marlon Mack-less, I still see USF putting up over 40 points on a team that ranked 128th in stuff rate last season.
If USF stays the course offensively and the ‘Bull Shark’ defense continues to attack the quarterback, then all should be well in Tampa for Willie Taggart’s Bulls come Sunday morning.
Fun Fact: NIU Defensive Coordinator and Kansas City native Kevin Kane played linebacker for Kansas and was part of Mark Mangino's first signing class for the Jayhawks.