The case for
There's never a good time to lose your 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-ever 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 N.C. 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% 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 5'7", 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 them. Too much rides on Lynch's health for Carey to feel entirely comfortable about his team's chances.
Heading into the season, what's the biggest game on your schedule?
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.
How do you stop a loss from becoming a slide?
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.
Do you guys put an emphasis on recruiting playmakers or is that conferencewide?
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.
Is there any advice Coach Doeren gave you before he left?
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.
Player to Watch
The Huskies are hoping to balance their offense with help from wide-receiver-turned-running-back Akeem 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.
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Jordan Lynch
Pass: 2,735 yards, 22 TDs
Run: 1,430 yards, 17 TDs
RB Akeem Daniels
Run: 850 yards, 10 TDs
Rec.: 260 yards, 2 TDs
WR Tommylee Lewis
Rec.: 675 yards, 6 TDs
Run: 110 yards, 1 TD
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.
SI Power Ratings
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
CRAIG RUTTLE/AP (LEWIS)
ROBERT MAYER/USA TODAY SPORTS (CAREY)