2019 NIU Huskies Football Season Preview, Predictions

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The NIU Huskies are the gold standard of the Mid-American Conference, but also a program in need of a reboot/revamp. Yes, both of these things can be true. Under Rod Carey, the program plateaued, as the MAC titles kept coming, but the bowl game losing streak extended.

It wasn’t just that the Huskies kept losing bowl games, it’s also the fact that they rarely, if ever, played as if they were even interested in being there. Yes, non-playoff bowl games are essentially exhibition matches, but tell that to the fans and alumni who make the trip. Football supporters often base their vacations around these games so they want to see their team win, or at least compete. With a new head coaching regime in place, things should change.

NIU Huskies Overview

Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois Class of ’02, joins Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck (a legend in DeKalb and on the NIU campus) as young Gen Xer Huskies leading FBS programs this fall.

Hammock maintains that winning in the postseason will be of great importance.

“Bowl games are important, because bowl games get you started for the next season,” Hammock said this preseason.

“You want to end the season with some positive momentum, so you can say in 2020, we won our bowl game, we have some momentum and with the rule that you can play guys up to four games (and retain a redshirt season)- that’s a great time for young athletes to develop.”

“Play ’em in the bowl game, they can have some success and then go into the next season expecting more.”

Hammock rushed for 2,432 rushing yards in his NIU career (1999-2002), which still ranks 13th all-time in school history. His previous gig before taking this job was Baltimore Ravens runnings back coach. This isn’t the first time Hammock is returning to DeKalb either, as he served as running backs coach under Joe Novak from 2005-06.

In other words, NIU will run the ball effectively this season, you can guarantee that. Of course, rushing the ball hasn’t been the problem in recent years. It’s the passing game, and having more dynamism and creativity to the offense as a whole that’s been the issue.

(note: check out my segment talking college football on CLTV Sports Feed last week below)

Names to Know

As of this writing, the QB1 on the depth chart is still the dreaded “OR.” It consists of the returning starter from last season, Marcus Childers and Ross Bowers, a Cal graduate transfer. The latter can much better stretch the field while the former can make plays with his feet.

Will both QBs be integrated into this offense? What will their roles be? It’s a little bit reminiscent of 2012-13 Northwestern, when you had Kain Colter the runner and Trevor Siemian the thrower. Of course, at the end of the day, you know what they always say about having a two quarterback system.

Spencer Tears will be the Huskies’ main weapon in the passing game while Marcus Jones and Tre Harbison will be the lead ball-carriers on the ground.

niu football

Linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis and offensive lineman Jordan Stecker are both considered to have very high NFL Draft stock.

NIU Huskies Stuff to Get Excited About

The aforementioned running back duo lead a very deep position group. New OC Eric Eidsness should have them in place to help bring the offense the jumpstart it badly needs. The linebacker unit is solid and underrated. Speaking of underrated, the MAC preseason poll predictions for this team were rather off, i.e. bad.

The reigning league champions return 12 starters combined, 16 when you factor in the third phase of special teams. NIU has made a habit of owning the league’s western division in recent years.

sutton smith

NIU Huskies Stuff to Be Concerned About

They will have to hit the ground running in 2019, with trips to a resurgent Nebraska, a solid Vanderbilt and Pac-12 runner-up Utah on the docket. Some may overlook Vandy, but they have one of the best returning backs in the college game in Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

The good news for Northern is that their opener is August 31 at home versus Illinois State, so they can warm up with a FCS foe before taking on that murderers row of opponents. They have to replace a lot of their pass rushing and tackles for loss production, including Sutton Smith, the team’s best overall player by a country mile last season. 

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Notable Quotable

“It’s going to be interesting, football is what have you done for me lately, just because you made a lot of plays, may not be what the NFL is looking for,” Hammock said of his players with next level pro potential while on the summer caravan tour. He then brought up a specific example, one of the best players in recent NIU Huskies history, the DE .

“Sutton Smith was a sixth round draft pick, so that should give you some perspective on how difficult it is. You have to bring everything to the table, size, speed intangibles, production.”

thomas hammock

Prediction (to be used at your own risk at the sports book, we will not be held liable for your financial losses):

There’s no reason to think the NIU Huskies can’t win the division and/or double digits again when all is said and done.

2019 Season Preview Series 

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Purdue Boilermakers

NIU Huskies

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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  1. Excited for a new coaching staff and some much-needed spark to an offense that was descending to one of the worst in the country under the Carey-led regime. Let’s go Huskies!

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