What to Expect from the 2019 NIU Huskies, Exclusive with Coach Hammock


Can the NIU Huskies defend their Mid-American Conference championship this season? It all depends on how well the Northern Illinois football program responds and reacts to regime change this autumn. Rod Carey left for Temple, and he’s been replaced by former Baltimore Ravens running backs coach Thomas Hammock.

He’s a NIU alum, so he obviously knows the culture and history in DeKalb as well as anybody. “I expect our offense to be dynamic, to match the level of our defense,” Hammock said during our exclusive conversation at Ditkas in Oak Brook earlier this month, “and we can win any way that we need to win.”

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When betting on the MAC, specifically the West, one has treat the NIU Huskies like the provably fair algorithm of the division. PFs can be analyzed and verified for fairness on the part of the service operator, and with seven division titles already this decade, Northern Illinois is the consensus favorite/control in any betting experiment; every season.

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. 

A couple of leading indicators to the success of their season lies with linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis and offensive lineman Jordan Stecker. Both are considered to have very high NFL Draft stock.

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“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 pro prospects while on the summer caravan tour. He then brought up a specific example, one of the best players in recent NIU Huskies history.

“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.”

Another key will be the quarterback position. QB1 Marcus Childers returns, but he’s been somewhat one-dimensional, as the vertical passing game has just not developed while he’s been on the job.

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The offense has been somewhat stagnant, and not all that thrilling to watch while Childers has been the starting signal caller.

Enter Ross Bowers, a Cal graduate transfer who can better stretch the field. How will both QBs be integrated into the offense? What will their roles be? How can you keep everybody happy in a potential two quarterback system, should the team decide to go that route?

“My concern is not making everybody happy, my concern is putting the best players on the field,” Hammock answered.

“That’s what competition brings- you earn your keep, the best players are going to play.”

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Hammock, who is very lacking in head coaching experience, has a lot to sort out this fall camp. Also maintaining the Huskies MAC standard will be difficult.

That said, regime change was needed at NIU, as the program plateaued and failed to show up for bowl games. Maybe that changes under Hammock, and they can finally win a postseason game again.

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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