Northern Illinois Huskies
2021-22 Season Record 9-5 (6-2 MAC West) - 9-4-1 ATS - 8-6-0 O/U
Offense - 9
Defense - 9
Northern Illinois joined the MAC in 1997 and it was 13 years of some good, some bad and some in-between and then in 2010, the Huskies became the elite of the conference. They had five straight double-digit win seasons, going 57-13 over that stretch but they ended up ranked only once, in 2012 when they finished No. 22 and that has been the only time the program has finished in the AP Poll. Since then, it has been above average but last season they had their best one since those glory years, going 9-5 and winning the MAC Championship for the fourth time in 10 years as the Huskies welcomed back 19 starters and head coach Thomas Hammock could be building something really good again. They have 18 starters back this season while being ranked No. 8 in returning production yet are not the favorites (Toledo, Miami Ohio) so they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder.
The offense was not great but they did enough, leaning on a rushing attack that averaged 115 more ypg than in 2020 and finished No. 5 in the country with 234.7 ypg. Leading rusher Jevyon Ducker is gone but Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown are back and last season combined for 1,112 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging a robust 6.1 ypc so there will not be a big drop off. Another reason for that is the offensive line is one of the best in the conference with a pair of All-MAC players leading the way so it will be another lethal ground game. The passing game was limited with Rocky Lombardi having a decent yet unspectacular season but that was expected with the running game what it was. There should be more balance as he has a year under his belt and he has some great weapons at his disposal with Trayvon Rudolph and Cole Tucker who combined for 1,467 yards and 10 scores.
The defense put the team in some tough spots which was the big reason there were so many close wins and a better unit would have alleviated some of the sweat. Northern Illinois finished No. 112 in total defense and No. 107 in scoring defense which was pretty bad considering it was worse than the 0-6 defense from the previous season. With the bad comes the good and that is nine starters are back so the experience alone is worth a big improvement in 2022. 17 of the top 20 tacklers were freshmen or sophomore so being thrown into the fire makes them better off going forward. All three levels have playmakers led by the linebacking corps that welcomes back Kyle Pugh who missed last season to go along with a talented group. The defensive line is big with tackle James Ester earning All-MAC honors. The secondary has three legit future stars back highlighted by leading tackler C.J. Brown at safety.
2022 Season Outlook
The fact that this team is so young and the defense was so bad is a legitimate reason that the Huskies are not favored to win the conference but does not mean it cannot happen. With so many pieces in place at the right levels, it should happen. Hammock used 2020 to rebuild as there was no fear in losing a season that was lost by so many other teams as well and now Northern Illinois is better off for it and for the foreseeable future. The Huskies open with Eastern Illinois and then are at Tulsa, at home against Vanderbilt and at Kentucky so a 2-2 nonconference record is likely although 3-1 is doable. Now the best part is Toledo and Miami Ohio come to Dekalb as well as Central Michigan and the toughest road game is at Western Michigan. The O/U win total is 6.5 and even if they happened to go 1-2 in those three MAC home games, nine wins still looks like a legitimate number.