Northern Illinois Begins New Era on Football Field

Steve JankowskiAnalyst IMarch 27, 2008

After an injury-plagued 2-10 season, the Northern Illinois football team will look to return to the top of the MAC West under a new coach, former Southern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill.

Kill took over for long-time coach Joe Novak, who retired after leading the Huskies for 12 years. 

Under Novak, the Huskies went from a bottom-feeder to perennial MAC contender.  He led NIU to four MAC West titles, one MAC Championship game appearance, and two bowl games, with the Huskies going 1-1.

Kill has had plenty of success in his 14-year head coaching career, boasting a 104-57 mark.  He will take over a team that returns nine starters on both sides of the ball, and 20 starters overall.  Fifty-five varsity letter winners in all return for the 2008 season.

The challenge for Kill this spring will be evaluating a talent pool that was injured most of last season.  Many of those players are still rehabilitating those injuries now, and will be limited in their spring workouts.

One of the returnees who was injured in the last game of the 2007 season is redshirt senior tailback Justin Anderson.  The Huskies will have to rely on him. He led NIU in rushing last year, running for 1,245 yards and eight touchdowns. 

Defensively, the Huskies were led last season by MAC MVP Larry English.  He will return to anchor the Huskies' defensive line after posting 10.5 QB sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in 2007.

The Huskies also return their top two quarterbacks, in junior Ryan Morris and senior Dan Nicholson. 

Nicholson figures to be the starter when the Huskies open their season August 30 at Minnesota, but Morris showed last year he is capable of filling in after Nicholson went down to injury.

The receiving corps is a year older and more experienced, which will be a boon to whichever quarterback is under center. 

The passing attack will be vital to the offensive success of the Huskies, as it will soften up opposing defenses for Anderson and senior running back Montell Clanton, who missed nearly all of last season due to injury.

The Huskies will face only one Big Ten team this year in their season opener at Minnesota. 

Other non-conference games include a visit to perennial SEC powerhouse Tennessee, and the Naval Academy's first-ever visit to DeKalb.  Their first home game is against Indiana State on September 20.

In conference, the Huskies will have three consecutive home games against Miami of Ohio, Toledo and Bowling Green in the middle of October.  The only other MAC East team they will face is Kent State.