The Northern Illinois Huskies like to run the ball. That's no secret. And if the Huskies want to improve on their 2007 record of 2-10 (1-6 in the Mid-American Conference), they will be relying heavily on the legs of junior running back Justin Anderson.
In 2007, Anderson became the ninth straight Huskie to rush for over 1,000 yards, joining the likes of Michael "The Burner" Turner and Garrett Wolfe. Anderson took over the starting role after starter Montell Clanton was injured early in the season.
With a new coach (Jerry Kill) and a new offense in place, Anderson can still expect to see good numbers, despite the fact Kill likes to use multiple running backs in his offense.
Anderson will be the likely starter, followed by senior Clanton and junior David Bryant.
The quarterback spot for the Huskies should be a contest between senior Dan Nicholson and junior Ryan Morris. Nicholson missed the end of last season with a shoulder injury and a concussion. Morris stepped in and did a nice job—but look out for redshirt freshman DeMarcus Grady, who was 4-7 passing for 36 yards and rushed for 118 yards on eight carries in the Huskies' spring game.
The receivers for the Huskies will be coming off of a good 2007 showing. Senior Matt Simon emerged as the best receiver for the Huskies last season. He is joined by seniors Britt Davis, Marcus Perez, and Greg Turner on the line.
Speaking of the line—the Huskies' offensive line had been a staple in their past MAC success under Joe Novak. Junior and former All-American Eddie Adamski, along with All-American candidate Jon Brost, will bolster the line. Juniors Tim Mayerbrock, Kevin Skatrud, and Jason Onyebuagu will also see starts on the line, which will look to block for the tenth straight 1,000 yard rusher.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Huskies are led by MAC Player of the Year Larry English at defensive end. English was just the second defensive player to be named MAC Player of the Year. He finished last season with 10.5 sacks, 17 tackles for a loss, which were both tops in the conference. His 10.5 sacks tied him for 11th in the nation. For the second straight season, English was placed on the Bronco Nagurski Trophy Watch List for the best defensive player in the nation.
Joining English on the defense will be senior linebacker Tim McCarthy. McCarthy missed most of last season with a broken leg and is one of Huskies top tacklers at middle linebacker.
With njuries plaguing the defense, junior Cory Hanson stepped into a big role and performed for NIU last season. Cornerback Melvin Rice led the Huskies secondary and junior linebacker John Tranchitella stepped into a starting spot before an injury ended his season.
Special Teams will be the biggest question mark for the Huskies after losing potential All-American Chris Nendick. Punter Andy Dittbenner will return after an injury, and junior kicker Matt Salerno should step into Nendick's spot.
The running game has always been a strength for NIU and should continue to perform at the expected level. One problem the Huskies have always had has been their pass defense, which will need to step up their play in tough Mid-American Conference.
Coach Kill will have some big shoes to fill in the conference. but the former Southern Illinois head coach should bring his success with the Salukis over to the Huskies and return NIU to MAC glory.