|NIU's 2013 schedule|
The MAC title game is Dec. 6 in Detroit.
Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.
The case for
There's never a good time to lose a head coach, but the Huskies at least have momentum and continuity to ease the transition. They went 12-2 in 2012, winning the MAC for the second straight year and earning their first BCS berth (a 31-10 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State). In addition, new coach Rod Carey -- who took over when Dave Doeren went to NC State -- has been on staff for two seasons and was the offensive coordinator in '12, overseeing a unit that outscored opponents 540-278.
Foremost among the 16 returning starters is quarterback and Heisman candidate Jordan Lynch. Northern Illinois averaged 38.6 points, with Lynch accounting for 44 touchdowns and 4,953 yards (75.3 percent of the team's total) -- numbers that earned him seventh place in the Heisman voting. Lynch will be helped by senior running back Akeem Daniels and junior wideout Tommylee Lewis, a 5-foot-7, 155-pound jitterbug who's a threat as a receiver, runner and returner.
The case against
NIU has a target on its back, a new coach and questions on defense. One slip and hungry, veteran MAC teams such as Ohio, Toledo, Central Michigan or Bowling Green could topple the Huskies. Too much rides on Lynch's health for Carey to feel entirely comfortable about his team's chances.
Revenge will be on the Huskies' minds when they open at Iowa, which took the matchup 18-17 last year. Four weeks later they take another shot at the Big Ten with a road trip to Purdue, part of a difficult away slate that includes showdowns at MAC powers Kent State, Central Michigan and Toledo.
4,953: Lynch was the first player in NCAA history to pass for at least 3,000 yards and rush for at least 1,500 in a single season a year ago. But if the Huskies hope to bust the BCS again, the rest of the offense will have to deliver more balance.
RB Akeem Daniels: The Huskies are hoping to balance their offense with help from wide-receiver-turned-running-back Daniels. The senior had 28 carries during the first 10 games of 2012, but he exploded for 240 yards on 29 carries in two late season games.
Freshman to watch
S Mycial Allen: There are plenty of extra minutes available in the Northern Illinois secondary after cornerback Rashaan Melvin and safety Demetrius Stone graduated, and some of them could go to Allen, rated as the 19th best player in Michigan in the class of 2013. Allen received offers from Iowa, Memphis and a few MAC schools, as well as a fair amount of interest from Michigan State. NIU senior safety Jimmy Ward has liked what he's seen from Allen so far, saying the freshman has placed a strong emphasis on playing in coverage.
WR Tommylee Lewis: Somebody has to step up in the wake of leading receiver Martel Moore's departure, and this offseason Lewis received the unanimous vote of confidence around the program. Lewis was the Huskies' second-leading receiver in 2012 with 48 catches and 539 yards, and he also tallied a total of 1,318 all-purpose yards. Lewis has serious big-play ability, and his chemistry with Lynch should go a long way toward determining whether or not NIU will have the same amount of success on offense this season.
Projected 2013 stats (By RotoWire.com)
QB Jordan Lynch: 2,735 passing yards, 22 TDs; 1,430 rushing yards, 17 TDs
RB Akeem Daniels: 850 rushing yards, 10 TDs; 260 receiving yards, 2 TDs
WR Tommylee Lewis: 675 receiving yards, 6 TDs; 110 rushing yards, 1 TD
Coach speak: Rod Carey
SI: Heading into the season, what's the biggest game on your schedule?
RC: Without question it's Iowa, because it is the first. I can't overstate that enough. If you look ahead, with our schedule, you'll die a quick death.
SI: How do you stop a loss from becoming a slide?
RC: You do it the same way as if you win. You do it daily and with the little things. You don't do it by saying, I'm mad, now I'm going to play better. You do it through preparation and by executing.
SI: Do you guys put an emphasis on recruiting playmakers or is that conference wide?
RC: I wouldn't venture to lump us all in the same group in terms of recruiting. I know what we do. We want as good a football player and as good a person that matches NIU as we can get.
SI: Is there any advice Coach Doeren gave you before he left?
RC: Just be yourself. I can't tell you how big a cliché that is but also how invaluable it is. I can't try to be Coach Doeren, or Coach Novak, or Coach Kill. I have to try to be me. That's what I'm going to do every day. I know how to do that.