2014 Record: 11-3
F/+ Rank: 69
Wins: Presbyterian, Northwestern, UNLV, Kent State, Miami (OH), Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Toledo, Ohio, Western Michigan, Bowling Green
Losses: Arkansas, Central Michigan, Marshall
After winning 12 games in 2012 and again in 2013, expectations are annually pretty high for Northern Illinois, a team fast becoming a power player despite an in the mid-major Mid American Conference. After winning the MAC Championship and advancing to the Orange Bowl in '12, the team took a step back when it failed to repeat in '13, losing in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Last season, they opened up with a loud announcement of their talent almost immediately when they waxed FCS Presbyterian by a 55-3 count before scoring 20 unanswered points to defeat Northwestern, 23-15. But any dream of crashing the New Year's Six bowl games fell apart when they lost two weeks later at Arkansas by a vicious 52-14 final.
At 3-1, NIU escaped Kent State but were soundly defeated in a regular season conference game for the first time since October 1, 2011 when Central Michigan soundly took a 34-17 win at Huskie Stadium. The loss woke the sleeping giant, who used a 51-41 win over league doormat Miami to right the ship.
But the Huskies weren't as dominant as in past years. They won five in a row by no more than 14 points, defeating Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Toledo, Ohio, and Western Michigan to stamp their ticket to their fifth consecutive MAC Championship Game as winners of the Western Division.
In the MAC title game, NIU destroyed Bowling Green, 51-17, to receive a bid to the Boca Raton Bowl against Conference USA champion Marshall. In Florida, Marshall, a 12-1 team that just missed out on crashing the New Year's Six party, scored 24 first half points, then tacked on 28 in the second half en route to a 52-23 victory.
Series: Boston College Leads, 1-0
First matchup: 1971 (Boston College won, 20-10)
Last matchup: 1971 (see above)
Rod Carey joined Dave Doeren's staff in 2011 as offensive line coach, finding himself named offensive coordinator a year later. When Doeren left to take the job at NC State, Carey was promoted, and his first game as a head coach was the Orange Bowl loss to Florida State.
Since then, he's maintained continuity started when Doeren built the Huskies into a MAC powerhouse. He's gone 23-5 as a head coach since that bowl loss, winning two straight division championships. If there's a knock on Carey, it's that he's yet to win a bowl game, having lost three in a row (two with the Orange Bowl notwithstanding).
Prior to taking over the NIU job, Carey's worked his way up through the different divisions since ending the former offensive lineman played for Indiana in the early 90s. He started as a high school assistant in Minnesota after graduating from the Hoosiers, moving onto a graduate assistant's job in 1998 for the Golden Gophers. In 2000, he became offensive coordinator for Wisconsin-Stout in Division III, moving to the FCS in 2007 as offensive line coach at Illinois State. The next year, he joined North Dakota's staff, lasting there until 2011.
Drew Hare wrestled the starting job away by leading the Huskies past Northwestern last season, and he's back for a junior campaign (more on him a little later). He has most of his receivers back, as well, with Tommylee Lewis returning from an injury-plagued season a year ago and Juwan Brescacin lining up opposite him. Da'Ron Brown, however, is not back, having been drafted by Kansas City in the 7th round of this year's NFL Draft.
Eight starters from last year's defense are back, including safety Marlon Moore. He had 100 tackles last season.
There are going to be some issues for the Huskies coming into the 2015 season with a couple of question marks along the offensive line. Andrew Ness and Aidan Conlon are back, but they have to replace the entire right side of the line. But they've lost Ryan Brown, who started for three years, and Tyler Loos.
Even though their head coach is a former offensive lineman, it's always disconcerting when you have to replace more than half of the guys in the trenches.
Returning Quarterback: Yes
NIU's a mid-major program long on quarterback talent through the years. Drew Hare is now apparently the latest name in that line. Hare was nearly flawless throwing the football last year, going 194-for-326 for an astounding 59.5% passing. He was sacked less than once per game and threw only two interceptions compared with 18 touchdowns. Against UNLV, he went 18-for-28 for 285 yards and three touchdowns, and against only twice did he have a QB rating under 100. Against Miami, he threw for 185 yards and a touchdown while only throwing four incompletions, then followed that up with 180 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries on the ground.
The Huskies always used dual-threat quarterbacks to destroy oppositng defenses, and down the stretch, Hare ran the ball no less than 11 times for no less than 40 yards. He broke off long runs in every game in which he played.
In short, this is the type of quarterback who can kill Boston College. He's going to be a player to watch, eight days after the Eagles play Florida State.
Biggest Problem for 2015:
Outside of Hare, the Huskies lack a true running back. They averaged just under 250 yards per game, but they lost Cameron Stingily's 971 yards on 193 carries. That means the leading rusher back is Hare - the quarterback. It'll be interesting to see who steps into the void.
Biggest Strength for 2015:
This offense is going to be a nightmare for the Eagle defense simply because they a) have a running quarterback who is incredibly accurate when he passes, b) have receivers who can catch the ball, and c) run an uptempo pace that can put teams on their heels sooner rather than later. Like when BC played Colorado State last year, this has to be a concern, especially later in games. NIU is a good MAC team, and year-in and year-out, their offense is a big reason why.