Iowa Hawkeyes vs Northern Illinois Huskies: Game Preview, Prediction

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Northern Illinois Coach Rod Carey articulated what the atmosphere will be like for his team’s season opener at the Iowa Hawkeyes perfectly: “Those guys are right on top of you.”

“Iowa has a great setting and they have great fans. We’re going to have our contingent in the corner, and when we score, it’s going to be great. But if they ever score, it’s really loud. When we’re running onto that field, adversity is going to hit them right there.”

The Iowa Hawkeyes are considered by most pundits the biggest threat Wisconsin has to their hegemony on the Big Ten west division, so thus Carey’s crew hits the ground running on the 2018 season. The Huskies have the most challenging non-conference schedule in history this autumn and it all gets started Labor Day weekend.

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Kickoff/TV info: Saturday September 1, 2:30 pm CST, BTN (I know, I know that sucks, but we’ll just have to deal with it)

Line: Iowa Hawkeyes -10

Iowa Hawkeyes Preview:

Four Hawkeyes will not participate in the season opener due to suspension. Defensive lineman Brady Reiff and offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs were given one-game suspensions for alcohol-related violations.

Alaric Jackson, sophomore offensive tackle and Cedrick Lattimore, a junior defensive lineman, were suspended for reasons not disclosed due to privacy laws.

“As a coach one of the most important decisions is to hold student-athletes accountable,” said a statement attributed to Ferentz in regards to the second duo.

“It is painful for the players and the team to impose a suspension, but we have high standards and there is an expectation all players abide by our rules.”

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This means that both starting tackles are out in a game against NIU defensive end Sutton Smith, who was just a couple tackles for losses short of breaking the NCAA single season record last term. For Smith, it’s not size but his speed that makes him so formidable and menacing. Here’s a link to much more about him.

Ferentz and his offensive staff must now focus on trying to contain him despite the absence of their two starting OTs. The good news for the Iowa Hawkeyes is they have a stellar, established quarterback with NFL Draft potential in Nate Stanley

Stanley led Iowa’s offense last season with 2,437 passing yards and 26 touchdowns, which tied for the second most passing touchdowns in a single season at Iowa and third most in the Big Ten last season.

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“He’s worked extremely hard,” said Ferentz of Stanley. “And a few things you can’t give players are experience and confidence, and I think he’s been able to certainly benefit from a year of play, and looking forward to good things from him this fall.”

He is the only Iowa quarterback in program history to have two five-passing touchdown games in the same season. Another junior, tight end Noah Fant, is the Hawks’ best offensive weapon.

He was named to the AP preseason All-American team, as he led all FBS tight ends in 2017 with an average of 16.5 yards per catch. Fant led all FBS tight ends with 11 touchdown receptions and ranked second on the Iowa Hawkeyes with 30 receptions.

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Northern Illinois Preview:

For a full, detailed look at every position on this NIU Huskies team, be sure to check out our in-depth season preview at this link.

Rod Carey is 4-1 in his career against the Big Ten and that lone loss was by a single possession to defending national champion/then #1 Ohio State. Thus, a double digit spread (in some places two touchdowns!) seems quite puzzling here. Of course, NIU thrives on that “they disrespect us cuz we’re only a Group of Five member team” chip on their shoulder, and will harness it to their advantage.

You can hear that in our exclusives with several NIU players including Smith:

CB Albert Smalls:

RB Markus Jones:

Without a doubt, it was the defensive side of the ball that led the way to the Huskies’ 8-5 record season last year. With so many key returnees, and the team’s best player in Smith coming back the expectations are high. DL and DB (with great talent and depth at the CB position) are expected to be the Huskies’ strongest suits this fall.

However, with the quarterback position settled and looking up, plus all five OL starters returning, the offense enters this season with some optimism too.

“Anytime you have all five offensive linemen and your quarterback back, you know it’s a good start,” said NIU offensive coordinator/tight ends and fullbacks coach Mike Uremovich said.  “We’ve got a lot of guys that are back that, last year at this time, were just trying to survive, now they’re starting to learn and master the offense.

“Obviously Marcus [Childers] has started eight games now, so he’s matured a lot. He’s really helped bring along our receiver group because we have a bunch of young guys in there.”

The 2017 MAC Freshman of the Year, Childers went 6-1 as a starter last season, taking the reigns of the offense just four games into the season. 

“During the offseason, I said I wanted to be a better leader,” Childers said. “Physically, I’ve gotten a lot better at throwing the football. Now I understand where the ball goes in certain situations and learning how to read defenses.”

Anywhere from eight to ten wins is just expected now in DeKalb. The MAC title game has often become just a familiar part of the schedule. Hopes are high this year, just as they are every year.  The MAC media pegged NIU to win the West division.

Prediction: Iowa Hawkeyes 24, NIU 22

2018 College Football Season Previews 

#12 Notre Dame    Northern Illinois     Northwestern    Purdue    #11 Michigan State

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, is currently a regular contributor to SB Nation, WGN CLTV and Chicago Now.

Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Sound Cloud and YouTube. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to any and all of his.

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