Location: Dekalb, Illinois (1,227 miles from USF; 67 miles west of Chicago)
Head Coach: Rod Carey (4th year as HC, 31-12)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Uremovich (1st year) Multiple
Defensive Coordinator: Kevin Kane (1st year) 4-3
NIU has been to six-straight MAC Championship Games (seven overall) and have won three titles.
USF is 2-1 all-time vs NIU, most recently in the 2010 International Bowl where the Bulls won 27-3. They also didn’t provide food for their cheerleaders, who were last seen scavenging the concession lines at Rogers Centre at halftime. The previous two meetings were a home-and-home series in 2001 and 2002.
The Huskies travel to Wyoming September 3rd before coming to Tampa for their second game of the year.
A full preview of NIU by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly is here. He says betting against a seventh-straight MAC East championship for the Huskies might not be wise, even though they needed a bit of luck last season.
The Huskies return six starters from the 2015 season, including senior quarterback Drew Hare who looks to bounce back after rupturing his Achilles against Toledo in Week 10 last season. He has been practicing with the team in training camp and looks ready for the start of the season. Before his injury Hare led the Huskies to a 5-3 record, with two close losses to Ohio State in Columbus (20-13) and at Boston College the next week (17-14). In the games Hare played, NIU scored at least 35 points five times; in the games he didn’t they only managed that feat once. Hare finished the year with 1,962 yards passing, a 14-4 TD/INT ratio and a 63.8 completion percentage. He was on pace to shatter all of his previous career highs in those categories.
Don’t expect the team that laid an egg in their bowl game with Boise State or got smoked by Dino Babers’ Bowling Green in the MAC title game. The Huskies can score in bunches with Hare, but he doesn’t do it alone. Senior running back Joel Bouagnon and senior wide receiver Kenny Golladay also return, alongside three starting offensive linemen from 2015.
Bouagnon is a first-team all-MAC selection who ran for 1,285 yards, 4.5 ypc and 18 touchdowns last season, with 131 yards on 13 receptions as well. The only other running back with carries last year was sophomore Marcus Jones with eight carries and 109 yards (including a 73 yard run). At 6-2, 224, Bouagnon should get the ball early and often.
Golladay, a second-team all-MAC selection last year, led the Huskies in receptions (73), yards (1,129) and touchdowns(10). The 6-4, 200 pounds WR may cause some match up problem for the 5-10, 185 pound Deatrick Nichols. Golladay transferred from North Dakota where he had 99 catches for 1,313 yards and nine touchdowns in two season with UND.
NIU averaged 5.0 yards per play, just 96th in FBS, but a lot of that was being on their fourth quarterback by the Boise State game. Having Hare for a full season should help, as those numbers were dragged down by his missing the end of the season.
The offense is prone to coughing it up, conceding 1.9 turnovers per game.
The defense ranked eighth in FBS turnovers created with 28, of which 22 were interceptions (4th in the nation). They return six starters as well, two at each level of defense.
Junior cornerback Shawun Lurry was responsible for nine of the 22 interceptions.
Lurry, 5-8, 180, earned first-team All-American honors in 2015. He ended with 45 total tackles and 15 pass breakups. At some point you’d think teams would just stop throwing at him.
Junior safety Brandon Mayes, 5-11 188 also roams in the secondary for the Huskies and had three interceptions of his own to go along with his 87 tackles.
Opponents averaged 5.1 yards per play, which was 36th in America. Combined with their ability to take the ball away, their defense is able to get in the way and make plays. They conceded 27.8 points per game, but in the pass-happy MAC that’s still strong; they faced 80.5 plays per game by opponents.
NIU Special Teams:
The Huskies return every significant person in kicker Christian Hagan, punter Jake Ambrose and kick return extraordinaire Aregeros Turner.
Hagan hit 14-of-18 field goals last year, including a 52-yarder at Toledo. He also nailed 52-of-54 extra points.
Ambrose punted 74 times for an average of 37.9 yards and a long of 62 yards. He also had six kicks over 50 yards.
Turner is the star, as he returned 45 kickoffs for 1,181 yards, with a 26.2 yards-per-return. He also took two kicks back to the house for touchdowns, with his long being 96 yards.
Don’t throw near Lurry and don’t kick it near Turner.