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TODAY at No. 29: NORTHERN ILLINOIS Coach: Ron Carey (23-6, entering third season; 23-6 overall record) 2014 record: 11-3, 7-1 in Mid-American Conference; first...

college football winning lockTODAY at No. 29: NORTHERN ILLINOIS

Coach: Ron Carey (23-6, entering third season; 23-6 overall record)

2014 record: 11-3, 7-1 in Mid-American Conference; first in West Division

Look back: Northern Illinois has claimed three of the past five Mid-American Conference titles, winning more than 80 percent of its games during that stretch. Along the way, the program has appeared in seven consecutive bowl games since 2008. Outside of Boise State, the Huskies are one of the most successful non-Power 5 programs in college football.

Offensive starters returning: 6

Offensive starters lost: 6

Defensive starters returning: 7

Defensive starters lost: 5

Key losses: WR Da’Ron Brown, OL Ryan Brown, RB Akeem Daniels, TE Luke Eakes, OL Tyler Loos, OL Tyler Pitt, S Dechane Durante, DE Jason Meehan, LB Michael Santacaterina

Top returnees: RB Joel Bouagnon, WR Juwan Brescacin, OL Aidan Conlon, QB Drew Hare, C Andrew Ness, CB Anthony Brooks, DE Perez Ford, DT William Lee, LB Rasheen Lemon, CB Paris Logan, LB Boomer Mays, S Marlon Moore, DT Corey Thomas.

Strengths: After averaging more than 38 points and 450 yards per game during the past four seasons, Northern Illinois took a slight step back in 2014. That said, the Huskies still managed more than 31 points and 441 yards per game. Drew Hare built on the success of a long line of multi-talented quarterbacks at NIU, with the junior combining for 3,222 total yards and 26 total touchdowns.

Northern Illinois returns three of its top four receivers from last season, led by senior Juwan Brescacin, who had 31 catches for 445 yards and six receiving touchdowns. He’ll be joined by senior Tommylee Lewis, who is returning after missing most of last season due to a foot injury, and transfer Kenny Golladay.

The defense returns eight starters from a group that allowed just 25.6 points and 392 yards per game. The front line returns three starters in William Lee, Perez Ford and Corey Thomas, who combined for 41 starts in 2014. The trio had 8.5 of the team’s 32 sacks while registering eight quarterback hits.

The Huskies were fifth in the MAC in pass defense, allowing 228.5 yards per game through the air. Senior safety Marlon Moore led the team with 99 tackles last season, while cornerback Paris Logan had a team-high 15 pass break-ups.

Weaknesses: Since 2010, Northern Illinois has consistently been one of the top 20 best team in rushing offense. The Huskies averaged 249 yards rushing per game last season — second in the MAC — thanks, in part, to running back Cameron Stingily (971 yards, 14 TDs) and Akeem Daniels (390, 1). The pair departed, leaving holes to fill in the run game. The rushing attack faces additional challenges with NIU only returning two starters on the offensive line.

The defensive line also faces challenges with the departure of defensive end Jason Meehan.

Outlook: Much of Northern Illinois’ success hinges on a reliable rushing attack. If the Huskies can solidify the offensive line and continue to develop talent in the backfield, the defense should be help the team record another strong season. Road games against Ohio State and Boston College in September will provide early indications about just how much this team has developed.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 UNLV

Sept. 12 Murray State

Sept. 19 at Ohio State

Sept. 26 at Boston College

Oct. 3 at Central Michigan

Oct. 10 Ball State

Oct. 17 at Miami (Ohio)

Oct. 24 Eastern Michigan

Nov. 3 at Toledo

Nov. 11 at Buffalo

Nov. 18 Western Michigan

Nov. 24 Ohio

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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