2017 NIU Football Season Preview and Predictions


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NIU football, until the last year, was the MAC standard. The Huskies took home the conference championship in 2011, 2012 and 2014. From 2010-2015, they won the MAC West Division title. That’s a bit of a mini-dynasty there. However, last year saw the Huskies get off to a brutal 1-6 start, and by the time they recovered it was far too late.

It was a rare losing season, 5-7 for 2016 NIU football, and the main culprit lies at the quarterback position. Injuries have completely ravaged the group, with four different starting signal callers last year, and five over the span of the past two years.

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NIU Football Coach Rod Carey made it clear at Media Day in Chicago: “I don’t know who the quarterback is, it’s a three horse race. It’s Daniel Santacaterina, Ryan Graham and Marcus Childers.”

Carey continued: “There’s nobody who’s separated themselves. If I had to go into a game today, I would probably do it more based on experience than on anything else. So I would lend myself to go with Ryan, then Dan and then Marcus, but talk to me tomorrow and that could be flipped on its head. Or someone could establish himself, so that’s a moving document for us right now.”

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If you want to know why the string of double digit wins ended (2010-2014), the main cause would be the drop off in talent at the position, and of course the injuries that decimated the group. Drew Hare was a big loss, because although he was no Chandler Harnisch or Jordan Lynch, he was extremely efficient and actually quite stellar.

Graham has the most experience, so he could be the favorite, but as Carey said, it’s all up in the air. For what it’s worth, Athlon ranked all 130 potential starting QBs nationally, and Graham came in a lowly 113th.

drew hare niu football


LT Max Scharpring is probably the team’s best overall player and likely the one with the highest NFL Draft stock. The left side of the line is strength, but overall NIU football fans should have little concern about the OL.

Last fall, the Huskies had the best sacks allowed rate in all of FBS, and tied with Troy for fewest sacks allowed in the entire nation.

Senior Tight End Shane Wimann enjoyed a break out campaign in 2016 with 24 catches for 254 yards and six touchdowns. His 24 catches were the most by an NIU tight end since 2005, while his 10 career TD catches have now set the standard for Huskies at the position.


They lost the reliable and stellar Joel Bouganon, but have a solid tailback tandem in senior Jordan Huff and sophomore Marcus Jones. At Media Day, Jones said that he takes a lot of pride in the tradition of success that has come before him at the position, especially Garrett Wolfe and Michael Turner.



Gone is Kenny Golladay, a third-round selection by the Detroit Lions in the 2017 NFL Draft, amassed 1,156 yards on 87 receptions and scored eight touchdowns for the Huskies last season.  Christian Blake is the only returnee who had more than nine catches last season, and that means receptions will be up for grabs this season. A lot of younger and unproven players will be competing with Beebe for playing time.

Of NIU’s 13 receivers on the roster, five are freshmen, including three true freshmen. Senior Chad Beebe, son of Don Beebe, a man who played in six Super Bowls, is a very engaging story. Read all about that here.




William Lee is the only returnee in a group that essentially starts over, just like most of the front seven. The main reason NIU football finished 4-1, following that dreadful 1-6 start, was the play of the front seven. They got it together in mid-season and the defense turned around. This year, Carey and company will hope for a faster learning curve, in a group that’s getting a major makeover.


“Defensively, I really like the way our linebackers are running around,” Carey said. “They’re playing fast, they’re getting to the ball, they’re physical.  As a group, they have really been pretty good.  That’s what’s caught my eye right now.”

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Sophomore middle linebacker Kyle Pugh has been having some good practices, and he should be, along with OLB Jawuan Johnson, two of the new starters in this position group. OLB Bobby Jones IV is the lone returning starter.


While the OL is the overall strength of the team, cornerback is the deepest and most talented position in 2017 NIU football. Shawun Lurry was an All-American his sophomore year who started to look like a NFL Draft pick. He backslid a little last season although his numbers were still solid. He’ll be very motivated for this, his last go around.

Iowa Hawkeyes transfer Jalen Embry is finally eligible and ready to make noise. Albert Smalls can bring it too, meaning that competition for playing time here will be fierce.

What the so-called experts say: Lindy’s ranks the Huskies 97th nationally and 4th in the MAC West, but they do write this in the “Our Call” snippet- “much depends on the QB play, but this could be the surprise team in the conference.” Street & Smith’s also project NIU third in the MAC West, and they close their team preview with “a sub-500 record is against the norm in DeKalb, so don’t expect another one this time around.”

Go here for much more on all of this, but the preseason polls had NIU picked to finish third in their division for the third straight season.


Final Analysis, Prospectus: The Huskies open the 2017 season Friday Sept. 1 when NIU plays host to Boston College in Huskie Stadium, as the Eagles become the first Atlantic Coast Conference opponent to play at NIU since 2003. The last one was Maryland, who were ranked #5 at the time. Carey has declared this contest the biggest game they have had in DeKalb since then.

In other words, we’ll know right off the bat who this team is and what they’re about. The tone for 2017 NIU football gets set right from opening kickoff under the Friday night lights. We’re forecasting a 6-2 MAC finish, 2-2 in conference for a 8-4 overall record.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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