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By EVAN MEYER
The 2012 campaign was one of those seasons for the Northern Illinois Huskies. After losing to Iowa in the opener, (in which they held a late fourth quarter lead), the Huskies ran off 12 consecutive victories. That string included their third straight Mid-American Conference Western Division title and second MAC Championship game victory – a double overtime win against Kent.

NIU went on to became the first MAC team to play in the Bowl Championship Series, with the Huskies facing heavily favored Florida State in the Discover Orange Bowl. Despite being outplayed for much of the game, the Huskies were still close until a fateful interception late in the third quarter ended any hopes of a major upset.

That loss, along with some of the perceived slights by the national media,is fuel to the fire for NIU as it begins the 2013 season with a new head coach. Ron Carey is the now the head man, replacing Dave Doeren, who left before the Orange Bowl to accept the head coaching position at North Carolina State.

Here is a look at the 2013 Huskies as they plan to defend their MAC title

OFFENSE:

The offense begins with senior QB Jordan Lynch. The 2013 MAC Player of the Year amassed 4,953 total yards and scored 45 touchdowns. His 1,815 rushing yards was the most ever by a quarterback in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

 In 2012, NIU used the ‘read-option’ offense --  the same offense used by the San Francisco 49ers and QB Colin Kapernick in reaching the Super Bowl. There is some indication that Carey and offensive coordinator Bob Cole could move Lynch into a more conventional offense during the season to help him prepare for the NFL. While some pre-season publications rate Lynch as the best running back in the MAC, they do have a breakaway runner in senior Akeem Daniels  

The wide receiving corps, meanwhile, will reload after losing standouts Perez Ashford and Martel Moore. Look for Tommylee Lewis, who has been a standout on special teams to see more snaps in the offense at receiver, as well as Da’Ron Brown and Angelo Sebastiano.

The offensive line brings back four starters including junior LT Tyler Loos who broke his leg late in the 2012 season. As much as the line deserves credit for success last year, it has the potential to be even better this time around.

DEFENSE:

The Huskies used a veteran defense a season ago as they held the opposition to 19.9 points per game. The defensive line was hit the hardest with the graduation of Sean Progar. Senior DT Ken Bishop, with his eight and a half sacks in 2012, returns to anchor the group.

The linebackers will be led by Jamaal Bass, who finished third on the defense with 83 tackles. Look for sophomore Boomer Mayes to give Bass some support, especially in the run defense. The secondary will be led by senior SS Jimmie Ward. He led the defense with 104 total stops a season ago and intercepted a pass in the end zone on the final play of the second overtime in the MAC Championship Game..

SPECIAL TEAMS:

NIU has one of the best clutch kickers in the conference in senior Mathew Sims, whose big field goal at the end of the first overtime kept NIU in the MAC Championship game. The punting job looks to be wide open. Look for junior Tyler Wedel to open the season at that position. In the return game, Lewis is one of the tops in the conference, especially on kickoff returns

THE SCHEDULE:

The Huskies play four of their first five games on the road (Iowa, Idaho, Purdue, and their MAC opener at Kent State). The only home game in that stretch is against FCS member Eastern Illinois. NIU has just five home games in 2013. The biggest matchups (KSU and Toledo) are on the road, while up-and-coming Ball State visits DeKalb.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW

The Huskies will not sneak up on anybody this year. There is definitely a target on their back, as well as expectations. It will be very, very tough to match last season, even if everything falls correctly for them. Lynch will have another solid season offensively. However, it will be the defense, and how fast they mesh as a unit, that will determine the Huskies top side in 2013. They are the favorites in the Western Division, but any slip ups could aid hungry Toledo or BSU challenges for the title
 


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