Before getting to the next preview in line, Mike Breese from the noted Northern Illinois blog Red and Black Attack agreed to stop by and give us an insider's look at the Huskies. Northern Illinois is expected to be one of the better teams in the MAC under second year head coach Jerry Kill, but they are in a loaded division with Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Ball State, and Toledo. I have an interview lined up with a Toledo blog that I will post later, and we've already heard from Addicted to Quack about Oregon, but let's see what the Huskies have to offer.
Hammer & Rails: Purdue has never faced Northern Illinois and our fans are perceiving this as another MAC game we should win. Tell us why the Huskies should be feared.
Red and Black Attack: I find it interesting to find out that we have never faced the Boilermakers in previous seasons. You would think that there could be somewhat of a decent rivalry there. West Lafayette is closer to us than Muncie where we play Ball State every single year. Anyways, I know you guys love to beat up on the Central Michigan Chippewas. You couldn't just let them have one of those three games? (ED note: Sadly, the Central win last year was our best win.)
It will help a lot, quite frankly. Big 10 athletes are something that you have a hard time preparing for because their increased depth over MAC teams. Purdue, just like Wisconsin is going to have more players that are bigger, faster and stronger than the Huskies on an overall level. In 2005, we stood toe to toe with Michigan in the Big House and the next week we were a 2-point conversion away from beating Northwestern. It's a matter of confidence and knowing what to do to overcome certain situations. It should be interesting to see how the experience against the Badgers affects the Huskies for the September 19 game against the Boilers.
As for Northern Illinois being "just another MAC team", I beg to differ. Northern Illinois is on the upswing with head coach Jerry Kill in his second year coaching this team. He managed to lead this Huskie team to a bowl game in his first year with a focus on something the Chips don't have: a defense. Northern Illinois went from one of the worst defensive teams in the MAC to lead in scoring and total defense, breaking the top-20 nationally.
There's a bit of a drop-off initially looking at the fact that we lose 7 starters on defense, however Coach Kill has been very happy with the bunch throughout Spring Practice. It's hard to replace the #16th pick in the NFL Draft Larry English at DE, but there is an abundance of young talent to step right in and make it hard on opposing quarterbacks. Coach Kill rotates his players a ton on defense, so most of the new starters have as much playing time as some of the players that graduated.
The offense is something to fear as well with road-graders on the left side of the offensive line, a stable of running backs headlined by Me'co Brown & Chad Spann and QB Chandler Harnish and his WR corps ready to break out in the second year in Coach Kill's system. Not to mention our Kicker should be the best in the MAC.
H&R: Northern Illinois has a history of going into BCS conference venues and scaring the bejesus out of teams. How will this help them against the Boilers?
RBA: It's hard to belive it's only been 6 years since the apex of Northern Illinois football, defeating a nationally-ranked Maryland team and Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Since then, it's been tough losses up and down the chart and the players, coaches and not to mention the fans have had it. Last year we lost to Minnesota in the final minute by 4 points. We almost beat the Vols in Knoxville last year without our starting quarterback, but also lost by 4 points. This is our best chance to beat a BCS team in years, and we have to seize the opportunity.
H&R: What is your honest projection of Northern Illinois this year, especially playing in the toughest division of the MAC?
RBA: The MAC West is a tough division. The favorite Central Michigan is loaded with explosive playmakers, but we almost beat them in overtime last year. The schedule is manageable and I see NIU with a 9-3 record and making a bowl game. Tack on a couple victories to that if they win a MAC Championship and/or a Bowl Game.
H&R: What style of offense should Purdue fans expect to face in West Lafayette?
RBA: Coach Kill likes to run the spread with a run-first mentality. Mobile QBs are also a must in the new offense that we run. QB Chandler Harnish was the team's leading rusher last year with 118 carries for 608 yards. That number was so high, because there was never enough confidence in a single running back or the receiving corps. This second year in the system, Harnish will be able to pass more while still making plays with his feet here and there.
H&R: Finally, how much will the season opener at Wisconsin help the Huskies in facing Purdue?
RBA: It will help a lot, quite frankly. Big 10 athletes are something that you have a hard time preparing for because their increased depth over MAC teams. Purdue, just like Wisconsin is going to have more players that are bigger, faster and stronger than the Huskies on an overall level. In 2005, we stood toe to toe with Michigan in the Big House and the next week we were a 2-point conversion away from beating Northwestern. It's a matter of confidence and knowing what to do to overcome certain situations. It should be interesting to see how the experience against the Badgers affects the Huskies for the September 19 game against the Boilers.
Thanks for stopping by, Mike. This will likely be a tougher games than most purdue fans expect. I'll post my own Northern Illinois preview early next week.